Opioid/Opiates and the  Addiction Epidemic at a Glance

What is an Opioid? 

Opioid is a broad term that refers to drugs derived from opium. At one time “opioids” referred to synthetic opiates only (drugs created to emulate opium, however different chemically). In recent years the term Opioid is used for the entire family of opiates including natural, synthetic and semi-synthetic. Consistent with the newest definition, this article uses “opioid” to refer to all opioids and opiates. An opioid is any agent that binds to opioid receptors (protein molecules located on the membranes of some nerve cells) found principally in the central nervous system and gastrointestinal tract and elicits a response.

There are four broad classes of opioids:

  • Endogenous opioid, naturally produced in the body, endorphins
  • Opium alkaloids, such as morphine and codeine
  • Semi-synthetic opioids such as Oxycodone, Buprenorphine, and Heroin
  • Fully synthetic opioids, such as Methadone (its structures are unrelated to the opium alkaloids)

Opioid drugs are sold under various brand names that include: OxyContin®, Percocet®, Vicodin®, Percodan®, Fentanyl®, Tylox®, and Demerol®.

How Addictive Are Opioids/Opiates? 

Because some opiates produce over 100 times more endorphins (natural painkillers) than the body naturally does, one can say that the potential of abuse and addiction is relatively high. An easy way to understand how an individual can become addicted to opioids is by understanding that opiates produce artificial endorphins (natural painkillers) that create an extremely good feeling. Unfortunately, over time, opioids trick the brain into stopping the production of the natural endorphins and the only way the person can experience any positive feelings would be by continuing to take the opioid he or she depends on.  At any point that a person with a history of opioid abuse stops taking it, he or she will feel sick and depressed. For these individuals, taking opiates (prescription painkiller or heroin) no longer is about feeling good but it is rather about avoiding the negative feeling of sickness and depression, as there is no other way to compensate for the lost endorphins, except to take more and more. This is the start of a vicious cycle of opiate addiction and abuse.

The Opioid Epidemic in the US and Florida
As we now understand more about opioids we realize that the opioid epidemic is not solely about illegal drugs, it is actually about legal prescription painkiller drugs like OxyContin, Percocet, and Fentanyl. Now, an everywhere problem, affecting virtually anyone and every community, opioid overdoses are considered to be the leading cause of shortened life expectancy in the U.S. According to the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids, which includes prescription opioids and heroin, killed more than 56,000 people in 2016. That is 24,000 more deaths than car accidents and it is projected that in 2017 that number will surpass the previous year. In Florida, opioids were the direct cause of death of 2,538 people and contributed to an additional 1,358 deaths in 2015 (the last year for which data is available). Now, four years into the opioid epidemic Florida Governor Rick Scott, officially declared a public health emergency last May. This gives the Governor the power to spend immediately without the Legislature approval and for public health to move quickly to respond to the crisis. It also allows the state of Florida to accept a federal grant for prevention, treatment, and recovery services totaling more than $54 million over the next two years.

Tackling the overdose epidemic will require more than federal grants for our state, it will require national efforts to curb doctors’ overprescribing practices, curb the manufacturing of addictive dangerous illicit drugs, lessening the stigma surrounding addiction, and beginning to treat addiction as a chronic illness. Seeing the afflicted individual as the one who each of us could be. Seeing them as the sons, the daughters, the fathers, the mothers, the sisters, and the brothers who are in urgent need of treatment. A treatment that is as available as the treatments for cancer, heart disease, and other debilitating illnesses.

How Does Opioid Addiction Treatment Work?
When it comes to opioid addiction, treatment varies for different people, depending on their stage of addiction. Most recovery process begins with detox to get the substance of abuse out of the individuals’ system. Detox is often followed by residential treatment (therapy and counseling), and in some cases, medications are utilized to reduce the patient’s cravings. Most addiction treatment programs, like the ones offered at Florida Center for Recovery (FCR), provide comprehensive treatment, addressing any co-existing mental health condition (s) which may be associated with the addiction, including PTSD, depression, and anxiety among others.

If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, reach out to family and friends, and seek treatment.