Opioid Epidemic

How did Opioid Abuse become Mainstream?

Jeff martin licensed associate counselor med ma lac
Jeff Martin
Licensed Associate Counselor
Specializing in Substance Abuse

Opiates are prescribed medically for pain and rehabilitation from surgery and/or injury. In some cases, this initial period of use can lead to dependency. While the availability was originally monitored by a clinical staff, addicts will hit up friends and family medicine cabinets, purchase them on the street or in some cases move on to Heroin. These medications are so addictive that individuals affected by opiate abuse, also suffer from withdrawal. Withdrawal produces sweating, irritability, anxiety, body aches, very similar to symptoms of the flu.

Opioid risk tool © dr Webster

What are Common Opioids that are being Misused?

Commonly prescribed opiates include; Codeine, Morphine, Vicodin, Oxycontin, Fentanyl and Dilaudid.

Why Vicodin is Seen More Often

Vicodin is a brand name for an opioid narcotic analgesic drug often used for pain relief. The drug is a combination of hydrocodone and paracetamol (acetaminophen) also sold under additional brand names such as Lortab, Lorcet, Zydone and many others.

Because of its narcotic status, a doctor must prescribe Vicodin, or any hydrocodone-containing drug. Healthcare professionals often prescribe the drug for relief of moderate to moderately severe acute and chronic pain, or for postoperative pain relief. When used as directed, Vicodin is typically safe for most users with the most common side effects being nausea, vomiting, dry mouth and constipation.

However, not all users take Vicodin as prescribed, and this often leads to dependency on the drug. In fact, Vicodin is one of the most-prescribed drugs in the United States and as such it’s led many proponents to suggest patients might be better off switching between narcotic and non-narcotic painkillers, as well as altering lifestyle habits, and undergoing more rigorous rehabilitation programs instead of having complete reliance on a drug that is known to be quite addictive.

Vicodin addictions typically start in one of two ways.

The first, involves taking the medication of a friend, family member, or acquaintance in a higher quantity or in a manner other than prescribed.

The second starts as using the prescription as prescribed, but gradually increasing the dose as the perceived effects are no longer what they once were. For example, if you have chronic pain and are used to taking Vicodin, over time your body will build a tolerance to its effects, which leads many users to self-prescribe higher doses in order to ensure they are no longer in pain.

No matter how it starts, Vicodin, once abused, is a serious problem.

How Opiates Like Vicodin Affect the Brain

Vicodin works by connecting to opioid receptors, which are proteins in the spinal cord and brain. Once connected, narcotic analgesics (like Vicodin) interfere with pain signals that would otherwise trigger a pain response in the brain. Instead, Vicodin blocks these signals and leaves the user feeling euphoric and slightly drowsy in some instances.

While we have a basic understanding of why Vicodin works, there are many things that doctors don’t currently understand how this, and other opioids affect a user not just physically, but mentally.

For example, those with prescription painkiller dependence often rate their levels of pain much higher than those without the same dependence, or to experience (and even manifest) a sort of phantom pain even in areas that aren’t injured. Both of these effects have been proven to be the part of the mental effects of withdrawal, rather than actual physical pain from an injury. What’s even more fascinating about this effect is that the pain isn’t made up. When scanned, these patients often exhibit pain-type responses even when the body isn’t injured, thus leading to the belief that the effects originate in the brain, rather than from the body itself.

In short, when addicted to Vicodin or other opioids, the brain actually works against the user by creating pain where there is none and making other pain more intense in order to get more of the drug.

Health Risks Associated With Continued Use or Abuse of Vicodin

Vicodin has a number of physical and mental side-effects that are mostly attributed to long-term use or abuse. Like many other drugs, the most persistent side-effect is that of withdrawal. Withdrawal from opioids is often quite severe and even dangerous if this detox period happens outside of a controlled environment, such as a detox center.

More physical effects are mainly from the acetaminophen within the drug and high doses of acetaminophen have been shown to cause liver damage (or failure) as well as affecting heart rate and kidney function.

The most severe side effects are those of overdose due to increased tolerance. As users continue to use the drug, they must do so in higher doses to get the same effect. This could lead to accidental overdose and does so with some regularity.

What is Percocet?

Percocet is a brand name of an opioid pain reliever containing a combination of acetaminophen and oxycodone. Oxycodone, is one of the most heavily abused narcotic pain relievers in the United States, and Percocet is just one of many drugs that contain it.

The narcotic is used to relieve moderate to severe pain in patients suffering from a wide variety of acute and chronic injuries (typically chronic). The oxycodone is a potent opioid that is sometimes referred to as “synthetic heroin” and the acetaminophen amplifies the effects of the oxycodone.

Percocet belongs to the opioid family that makes up the class of the most widely abused prescription drugs in the United States. Often users start using Percocet that they obtain legally, through a doctor’s prescription or through a friend, family member, or acquaintance that has access to the drug. Regardless of whether initial use was intended for pain relief or for recreational purposes opioids are some of the most addictive drugs on the planet. Its misuse often results in severe withdrawal effects, high rates of accidental overdose, and severe potential for abuse or dependence.

Side Effects of Opioid-Based Pain Relievers (Like Percocet)

Percocet has been shown to have numerous side effects, both mild and severe. Some of these can even be life-threatening. If you have signs of an allergic reaction to Percocet, such as hives, swelling of the face (including lips, tongue or throat), or difficulty breathing, seek emergency help immediately.

The most common side effects of Percocet include upset stomach, constipation, blurred vision, dry mouth or drowsiness.

Typically, when taken as prescribed, Percocet is safe under the supervision of a doctor. However, abuse of the drug often leads to severe long-term side effects that typically are the result of abuse.

Health Risks Associated With Long-Term Use

The initial effects of nausea and overall body comfort quickly give way to dependence that requires more and more of the drug in order to feel the same effects. As such, these higher doses come with some severe health consequences such as liver damage (or failure), kidney failure, chronic constipation, and decreased testosterone levels in men.

Due to the tolerance your body builds while abusing the drug, Percocet users are highly susceptible to accidental overdose. This happens by taking more and more of the drug over time as your dependence and tolerance levels build. Because of this, users often take too much, which could land them in the emergency room, or even lead to death. Overdose rates with opioid painkillers that lead to death are higher than that of cocaine, and heroin combined.

In addition to the severe physical problems that Percocet dependence has been known to cause, the drug affects an individual’s mental health as well. Opioid users show higher instances of depression, anxiety, and bipolar Disorder than that of their non-using peers. In addition, all opioids have been shown to affect the body in a way that alters the manner in which the brain perceives pain.

This complex process is a symptom of opioid withdrawal in which the body creates pain where there is none, or intensifies pain in order to return to baseline levels that it has experienced while on the drug.

Methadone Used In Treatment

Many individuals may hear the word Methadone and immediately think of it solely in a negative manner. However, when used effectively, methadone-based Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs) and/or withdrawal maintenance facilities (“detox”) can be a major support for the recovering opiate addict. There are numerous perceptions surrounding Methadone and even more so about the potential for dependence that is present with its use. At the Prescott House, we are here to help one find their path away from dependence on any mood-altering chemicals, or behaviors, in hopes to achieving a healthy life in recovery.

What is Methadone?

Methadone is a member of the opioid family and more specifically is a synthetic opioid. Methadone is often used with a practical medical application in mind. It is used to reduce withdrawal symptoms of those who suffer from an opioid addiction and is also used to manage chronic pain. Methadone is only available from certified medical professionals and pharmacies for these aforementioned uses with FDA approved dosages. The effects of methadone generally can last up to 24 hours and are usually administered via swallowing in liquid form, tablet, or injectable ampoules. The use of methadone to treat chronic pain or addiction is a decision that must be weighed heavily when being considered for this use.

Is there a Danger?

As with any opiate, Methadone use can cause physical dependence that may result in heavy withdrawal symptoms. When used for long periods of time, the effects of Methadone can last up to a 36-hour period. There are cases within Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs) where clients abuse their prescribed Methadone with benzodiazepines which, in turn, leads to overdose. Symptoms of a Methadone overdose can include but are not limited to:

  • Respiratory problems that can include slow, labored breathing, difficulty breathing, and breathing failure
  • Muscle spasms
  • Bluish color to the skin
  • Bluish color to eyelids as well as fingernails
  • Constipation
  • Weak and slow pulse
  • Tiny pupils
  • Stomach spasms
  • Severely low or noticeably low blood pressure
  • Disorientation
  • Drowsiness
  • Coma
  • Death
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