By Christopher Johnston, MD, ABPM-ADM, chief medical officer, Pinnacle Treatment Centers
*Dr. Johnston also provides direct care at several of Pinnacle’s opioid treatment programs in New Jersey
Addiction is a problem that plagues people from all walks of life. Opioid addiction is no different. It may start with something completely legitimate, like a prescription painkiller to help with recovery after a surgery or an injury. Unfortunately, for some, it is extremely difficult to stop taking this type of medication, and they develop an opioid addiction (Opioid Use Disorder). Others may take a different path, but the results are the same.
If you or someone you love is struggling to overcome an opioid addiction, speak with your doctor right away. Treatment programs under the supervision of medical professionals are the safest route to recovery. You can get opioid addiction help in a supportive environment designed for your success.
What are Opioids?
Opioids are a classification of drugs that are mainly used as painkillers. Many are derived from the opium poppy plant and can be made into prescription drugs, as well as illegal substances. Some are completely synthetic but they work in the same part of the brain as those derived from the poppy plant. They are typically used to treat medium to high levels of pain, but their relaxing effect can also become addictive. Although they lessen pain, they are in a different drug class than over-the-counter products like acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
Opiates vs. Opioids
An opiate is a natural substance created using the poppy plant like codeine or morphine but opioids are wholly or partially synthetic, or manmade. The active ingredients in opioids are manufactured using chemicals to create the desired effect. Narcotic analgesic refers to using these opioids for non-medical purposes.
Types of Opioids
There are three main types of opioids used to relieve pain. Keep in mind that each of these categories of opioids has serious risks and side effects, including opioid addiction, and should not be taken without medical supervision.
- Prescription Opioids – Prescription opioids are used to treat moderate to severe levels of pain and are obtained through a doctor who has determined a need.
- Examples of prescription opioids include oxycodone (OxyContin or Percocet), morphine, hydrocodone (Vicodin), and codeine.
- Fentanyl – Fentanyl is much stronger than other prescription opioids. It can be prescribed to treat severe pain, such as that from advanced cancer. It is also produced and sold illegally.
- Heroin – Heroin is an illegal opioid and less expensive than opioid pain pills.
Some common slang terms for various types of opioids include oxycotton, oxy, OC, vikes, percs, and happy pills.
Opioid Side Effects
There are a number of dangerous side effects associated with taking opioids, including addiction and building up a tolerance until higher doses are needed to achieve the same results. Misusing opioids for significant periods of time is referred to as Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). A few of the other side effects are mentioned below:
- Difficulty breathing, including slowing or stopping
- Negative interactions with other medications
- Impaired judgment
- Nausea, vomiting
- Physical dependence
- Hormonal dysfunction
- Muscle rigidity
Signs of Opioid Use Disorder
Opioid use disorder is characterized as an inability to abstain from the use of opioids or a state of being where the use of opioids is interfering with daily functioning. Those who are abusing opioids may or may not visibly show withdrawal symptoms or other obvious signs. If you are concerned that someone you care about may be struggling with opioid addiction, check for the following symptoms and seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
- Dependence or inability to resist the use of opioids
- Unexplained drowsiness or changes in sleep habits
- Persistent or frequent flu-like symptoms
- Excessive or uncontrollable cravings
- Weight loss
- Decline in hygiene
- Stealing, lying about money, or new financial troubles
- Isolation from friends and family
- Decreased libido
- Changes in exercise habits
Opioid Medication Breakdown
Any time your doctor prescribes medication for pain relief, it is important to ask questions and bring up any concerns you may have. Make sure your doctor is aware of any diseases or chronic conditions you may have, as well as every medication you are taking. If you have suffered with any type of addiction in the past, or are concerned that it may become a problem, ask if there are alternative options available.
You should also make your doctor aware of any substance abuse history in your family. If you and your medical team decide to move forward with the use of opioid prescriptions, make sure to follow all the directions, taking only as prescribed, and for the shortest possible amount of time.
Encourage Loved Ones to Seek Help
Unfortunately, many people wait until their addiction leads them to an emotional crisis or a trip to the emergency room before getting the help they need. Offer support and encouragement to loved ones who are struggling and help them to find a treatment center that meets their needs.
It is not necessary that the individual with opioid use disorder wants to get better before starting treatment. People who are sent for treatment by the judicial system frequently do very well. Harm reduction strategies are showing great promise for people who are not ready to stop but want to reduce some of the negative consequences of using.
It is ultimately up to the person suffering with addiction to do the work but getting started in treatment frequently involves some encouragement from other people. You can let them know that you are available to help them and try to motivate them to make healthier choices in whatever ways you can. Keep in mind that the pace of recovery is different for everyone; do not try to force a timeline, even if it makes sense to you.
Where to Find Opioid Addiction Help
The best way to get opioid addiction help is with a program led by medical professionals that is designed to help you succeed. At Pinnacle Treatment Centers, we understand how difficult it is to take that first step toward recovery, as well as remain committed when things get tough. We will provide ongoing support and resources to help you every step of the way.
Our highly skilled medical staff and therapists will help you learn how to overcome the psychological and physical aspects of your opioid addiction. We’ll utilize education, coping skills training, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), and relapse prevention strategies to help you remain strong even after you leave our care. We also provide support to the families of our patients to ensure that all who are affected receive the support they need.
Contact us at Pinnacle Treatment Centers to learn more about opioid addiction help and to begin the admissions process. Take the first step toward healing today.