Recognizing Opioid Painkiller Abuse 

 November 1, 2019

By  Gabriela K

The current opioid crisis we are encountering in the United States is responsible for 130 deaths every single day. The hardest part of that statistic is the fact that most opioids are coming from doctors, family members, or loved ones. Experts estimate that 30% of people prescribed painkillers as a form of pain management, misuse those same drugs.  

Opiate addiction is a serious condition that many Americans are facing, struggling to maintain lives and families while addicted to heroin, hydrocodone, oxycodone, fentanyl, and methadone. Sadly, many who suffer from opiate addiction are struggling as a result of a prescribed medication that they took for legitimate pain. 

Many others suffer due to self-medicating an illness or injury, or simply as a result of having used drugs to wipe out emotions.

Types of Opioids

Opioids are a class of drugs that evoke powerful pain relief when they interact with the brain. Overuse or use of opioids when there is no pain can lead to euphoric effects that may cause the user to repeatedly misuse the drug in an effort to reach that initial “high.” The most common types of opioids include:

  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Heroin
  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Methadone 
  • Meperidine 
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone

These opioid painkillers are found in various forms including synthetic, semi-synthetic and naturally occurring. Morphine is a natural opiate that is found in the poppy plant. Semi-synthetic, or manmade opiates such as hydromorphone are produced in conjunction with derivatives from the poppy.

In addition to those, there are also synthetic opiates that are fully produced in a lab. These include drugs like Tramadol and methadone

Dangers of Opiate Abuse

Opiates are highly effective at controlling pain, but long-term use of them can create serious hazards for your health. Dangers of painkiller abuse include things like addiction, dependence, and health problems such as heart failure or overdose. Side effects include:

  • Drowsiness that could lead to coma.
  • Paranoia, which could lead to irrational behavior.
  • Respiratory depression which could lead to death.
  • Permanent brain damage.
  • Lung damage.

The greatest dangers of opiate use come from abusing opiates through a means of increasing their effectiveness. Crushing and snorting pills, injecting the drugs, or smoking the drugs can produce higher levels of euphoria and also the greatest risk for addiction, overdose or death.

Recognizing Opiate Abuse

Misusing opiates such as heroin or hydrocodone comes with a laundry list of potential risks. Early detection of problematic behaviors is key to overcoming the disease of addiction. If you are prescribed an opiate, such as Oxycodone or Hydrocodone for legitimate pain, you could still be abusing the drugs. Below are some signs of abuse of prescription medication:

  • Taking more than prescribed.
  • Taking more frequently than prescribed.
  • Taking for reasons other than prescribed.
  • Seeking more prescriptions than you need.
  • Asking your doctor for other medications to “pair” with your medication for greater euphoria.
  • Doctor shopping – seeking drugs from more than one medical provider.
  • Running out of medication before the refill date.
  • Seeking early refills on medications that are prescribed.

Additionally, those who are not prescribed opiates are likely to abuse medications that are given to them by friends or family members. If you are not prescribed an opiate, but you are actively taking opiates to control pain or for other reasons, you are at risk of addiction. Common signs of opiate abuse among those who are not prescribed medications include:

  • Taking opiates for underlying health problems without a doctor’s approval.
  • Taking opiates to cope with mental or emotional upset or trauma.
  • Using opiates that you purchased off the streets or from a friend or family member.
  • Injecting opiates or snorting opiates.
  • Using heroin.

Regardless of how your painkiller addiction started, whether from a prescription bottle or by other means, it is important to recognize the problem and seek out help from your doctor or an addiction specialist. Talk with your pain management specialist about getting help if you are abusing your prescription or if you think someone you love might be abusing their medications. 

About the author 

Gabriela K

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