Opiates are effective painkillers when used according to directions, but there is a high risk for addiction if they are abused, whether deliberately or unintentionally. Deliberate abuse refers to the practice of using opiates specifically for their euphoric effects. Unintentional abuse refers to the increased tolerance an individual can develop after using opiates for chronic pain or illness over a prolonged period of time. Even when following dosage directions strictly, many individuals find that they suffer withdrawal symptoms if their prescription drug is withheld, and this can lead to severe opiate addiction.
Under the Controlled Substances Act of the U.S., opiates are classified as Schedule II drugs, meaning they are high risk for dependence or addiction. Some of the most popular opiates being abused today include:
According to the World Health Organization, “the total number of opiate prescriptions dispensed by retail pharmacies in the United States rose from 76 million in 1991 to 210 million in 2010. An estimated 52 million people (20 percent of those aged 12 and older) have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons at least once in their lifetime.”
Why Are Opiates Dangerous?
One of the main reasons for the popularity of opiates is that they are easily available. They can be found in medicine cabinets or on bedside tables in millions of homes nationwide. Teens especially enjoy this abundance, and they hold “pill parties” where everyone brings whatever drugs they can and spend the evening or weekend getting high with these medications. This is particularly dangerous when alcohol or marijuana is part of the mix. Far too many young people have died during these parties, even with their first use of the drug.
Today, more people die from opiate-related complications than any other substances combined, with the exception of alcohol. What causes opiate addicts to die? Some of the five major causes of opiate-related deaths include, but are not limited to:
Repeated use of opiates results in increased tolerance, requiring more of the drug to get the desired effects. Opiate abusers with high tolerance levels often take lethal doses and die from respiratory depression, heart attack, or stroke.
Opiates work by stimulating the pleasure centers of the brain. Eventually the brain and body become desensitized and the person can no longer feel pleasure or joy unless the drug is present in their system. After repeated use of high doses, even the drug fails to produce the level of euphoria it once did, and this state is referred to as dysphoria (opposite of euphoria). The user then chooses death as a way to escape the misery.
Opiates can be taken orally, snorted, smoked, or injected. Each method produces health risks that can become deadly. The most common diseases contracted by opiate abusers are from injecting with shared or dirty needles. HIV and Hepatitis C are widespread among those who inject the drug. Other diseases resulting from opiate abuse include septic shock, malnutrition, STD\’s, cardiac arrest, and respiratory depression.
Addicts will do anything to get their drug, even resorting to crime to fund their addiction. This can place them in physical danger, especially when interacting with dealers or suppliers. Many drug transactions go wrong for various reasons and often lead to violence or even death of the addict. Also, while incapacitated by the drug, addicts often end up in risky situations and are unable to defend themselves.
One danger of relapse is that the addict forgets to account for their lowered tolerance level. If they have been off the drug for a period of several days or weeks and they consume the same amount as they were before they stopped using, the result could be a deadly overdose.
There are things we can do to help bring down these numbers and prevent needless deaths. Awareness and education are the beginning. Knowing the dangers and also learning to recognize warning signs of drug abuse or addiction can go a long way in preventing another life being lost to these substances. Anyone that suspects a friend or loved one is having problems with drugs should look for some of the following indicators:
- Sudden weight changes
- Secretive behavior
- New set of friends
- Staying out late or more often
- Mood swings, agitation, anxiety
- Poor hygiene and appearance
- Always borrowing money, stealing
- Jail time or legal trouble
- Health problems
Although these are not always an indication that someone is abusing drugs, they do serve as an alert that something is different or going wrong in the person’s life, and it would be a good idea to pay attention and hopefully get help if addiction is the cause of the symptoms you are witnessing.
If opiate addiction is present in your life or in the life of someone you know or love, call us today to learn how to get the help you need for overcoming this powerful addiction. We offer you the most innovative, effective treatment programs available to get you back to living a fulfilling lifestyle, free from the restrictions and dangers of addiction.