Facts About Opiate Addiction and Treatment
Author: Jill Gonzalez
Opiates are a type of narcotic that have been used for centuries to treat pain. Though these drugs were initially intended for use in the medical community, they quickly gained popularity among recreational drug users. They are now some of the most commonly abused drugs in the world.
The only opiates that are still used for pain management in the medical community are morphine and codeine, but the opiate drug group also contains opium and heroin, as well as some synthetic opiates. Synthetic opiates may be used to treat pain or to treat people who are addicted to opiates.
Costs to Everyone
In the United States, illegal opiate use is a huge problem that costs taxpayers in excess of $400 billion annually. Why so much?
There are approximately 2.5 million opiate users over the age of 12 in this country. Healthcare costs, traffic accidents, criminal justice system expenses and crimes committed by addicts all contribute to the escalating costs that Americans wind up being responsible for.
In addition to these factors, opiate addiction also leads to a variety of health problems. HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and other infectious diseases are quite common among opiate addicts. These conditions, especially when combined with the other costs associated with opiate use, combine to make opiate addiction a very serious problem in the United States.
Because addicted individuals are likely to reach a point where they are no longer capable of holding down a job, they are also likely to lose any health insurance coverage that they had. The diseases or conditions that develop in addicts as a result of their drug use are often paid for through public funds because the addicts cannot pay for their own treatment.
Defining Opiate Addiction
It is believed that opiate addiction is a disorder of the central nervous system that develops from continuous use of opiates. With extensive, continuous opiate use, the body’s natural painkillers (known as endorphins) stop working as they are supposed to. With long-term use, the body stops producing endorphins altogether because it is used to receiving opiates from an outside source.
In addicted individuals, nerve cells gradually become degenerated. This results in an increased need for and a high tolerance of the drug. The end result is that the addict needs continuously increasing amounts of opiates in order to prevent withdrawal symptoms from beginning and to maintain their feelings of euphoria.
Side Effects of Opiate Use
It is not uncommon for opiate addicts to display severe mood swings and noticeable changes in behavior and attitudes. People who use opiates tend to display one or more of the following side effects while they are on drugs:
- Bouts of euphoria followed by bouts of depression
- Rapid heartbeat
- Skewed judgment
- Slurred speech
- Diminished coordination
- Difficulty concentrating
The side effects that are experienced by addicts usually vary according to the dosage that a person is taking.
The symptoms that an opiate addict typically exhibits shortly after using these drugs include an increase in body temperature, a rush of euphoria, a heavy feeling in the limbs and dry mouth. These feelings or sensations can last up to a few hours. Until the effects of the drug wear off, the user alternates between wakeful and drowsy states and is unable to participate in normal activities.
If addicted people do not receive regular doses of opiates, they will start going through withdrawal, which is a very painful process. In some cases, withdrawal from opiates can be deadly. This is particularly true for those individuals who are in poor health.
Symptoms of withdrawal from opiates include the following:
- Cold flashes
For people who are in relatively good health, withdrawal from opiates generally lasts for about a week.
Because of the very real dangers posed by going through withdrawal alone, it is normally recommended that people addicted to opiates seek professional opiate detox to help them through this process. Substance abuse treatment facilities specializing in opiate treatment are an excellent choice because they provide people with a safe, controlled environment for coming off of the drugs.
If a residential treatment facility is not an option because of financial concerns, patients should at least seek the assistance of a qualified substance abuse professional to guide them through the withdrawal and recovery process.