“Guess what? We didn’t know what we were doing.”
These are probably the last words you’d want to hear from your doctor. After all, doctors are undoubtedly one the most trusted professionals in the world because you entrust to them the only thing that cannot be taken back – your life.
It is then very interesting to note that these exact words were spoken by Dr. Ruth Potee in her 2014 interview with late CNN host, Anthony Bourdain as she was telling him about the opioid epidemic cloaking her small town. Potee is a family physician in Greenfield, Massachusetts and she shared how she was taught in medical residency to give people as much pain medicine as they need because these medicines aren’t all that addictive. She recounted that they started handing out pills like crazy but later admitted that although they thought they knew what they were doing, they clearly did not.
What’s alarming is that this interview was aired in November 2014 in probably the most popular news network in the world, hosted by one of the most admired storytellers who have lived. But that apparently was not enough for people to take notice because since then, opioid death rates continued to rise. From 2015 to 2017, a conservative estimate of more than 120,000 people in America died of opioid abuse – that’s an average of more than 100 people a day.
The Miseducation of America
Opioids encompass all types of drugs whether naturally occurring (opiates), synthetic or semi-synthetic that act on the brain’s opioid receptors. Oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl and heroin are just some of the more familiar opioids that are now ravaging the country.
While heroin is widely known as an illegal drug sold in shady streets, prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone and oxycodone are often assumed as safe and non-addictive opioids as they are readily prescribed by doctors.
But now in the midst of the opioid epidemic, people are only beginning to find out the dark truth about prescription pain medicine. In recent years, opioids are becoming more and more prevalent in mainstream media especially after President Trump proclaimed that the opioid crisis is now a public health emergency.
However, for a lot of people, there is still a naiveté on how dangerous these class of drugs are. It is then important to outline several points about opioids in order to raise awareness on why these are now considered America’s deadliest drugs.
1. Opioids Are Highly Addictive
While opioids are legitimately used for treating chronic pain, the problem lies in how easy it is to become addicted without even realizing it. In the late 1990’s it was believed that opioids are not addictive, however, ensuing evidence and admissions from pharmaceutical companies proved otherwise.
When you take an opioid, this initiates the release of dopamine which is a neurotransmitter that aids in controlling the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. This creates a feeling of euphoria that relieves the pain that might be caused by a surgery, an accident or an illness.
As you become used to experiencing these intense feel-good effects, you may find yourself wanting these feelings back even after the prescribed treatment duration so you start craving more opioids irrepressibly. This is what leads to addiction.
2. You Can Get Addicted To Opioids Even After A Short Time
It is generally believed by medical practitioners that if opioids are taken at the prescribed duration and are not misused by people, then this will not lead to addiction. But many doctors do not realize how quickly a patient can become dependent on pain medication.
This is what happened to Katie Herzog, a 68-year old CEO of a consulting firm who had a back surgery. She was prescribed an opioid for severe pain called Dilaudid. She took the full dose for two weeks but then started worrying about dependence on the drugs. When she asked her doctors what to do, she never got a clear answer so instead, she followed a Canadian guide to taper her opioid use. But just one month after her surgery, Herzog started experiencing withdrawal symptoms during her first day without opioids – which her doctors did not recognize and attributed to a viral infection.
This is a clear example of how people can easily become reliant on opioids. Every person has a different timeline on when they can develop dependence on the drug. For some it can even be as quickly as a few days of use.
3. Opioids Can Affect Your Mental Health
There exists a bi-directional relationship between opioid use and mental health which means that if you are suffering from one condition, it increases the risk of the other. The link between mental illness such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression and ADHD is not a new concept and when this occurs, it is often referred to as a dual diagnosis.
Additionally, opioid use as being the cause of developing a mood disorder may also be possible. According to research, simply using prescription opioids can put you at a higher risk of depression. A study from St. Louis University revealed that 10% of over 100,000 patients prescribed opioids developed depression after using medications for a month.
4. Opioid Use Can Be Harmful During Pregnancy
1 in 5 women filled a prescription for an opioid during pregnancy. This was revealed in a 2015 research that looked at the increase in prescription opioid use of about 1.1 million women in the US during pregnancy – that means more than 220,000 soon-to-be-mothers were exposed to the potential risks brought about by opioids .
This number is very worrying because studies have shown that even normal use of opioids during pregnancy can cause developmental issues in the fetus, resulting to birth defects. Larger doses can also cause direct physical and respiratory distress that can be harmful to the baby.
If a pregnant woman is dependent on opioids, it is also difficult to suddenly stop the intake because the withdrawal symptoms that she may experience can also harm the baby and may even cause a miscarriage. It is therefore important to seek a medically assisted detox treatment from a hospital or a licensed drug facility.
5. Opioids Can Cause Death
When you are addicted to opioids, you tend to constantly seek that amazing feeling all the time. But what this does is overstimulate the dopamine receptors in your brain which causes you to develop tolerance. This means the same dose may not be able to give you the same level of high as before.
When this happens, you may be pushed to increase your dosage to get that same feeling again or if the usual painkillers are not doing it for you, you may resort to more potent opioids like heroin or fentanyl. This increased intake is what leads to overdose that can result to death from cardiac or respiratory arrest.
Another life threatening practice is when you take opioids in a way that was different from how it was prescribed. Instead of taking the pills orally, many crush the pill to snort or inject it directly into the bloodstream. If the pill is an extended-acting formula, the rapid delivery to your body can cause an accidental overdose.
The Good News Is… Opioid Addiction Is Treatable
With more than 200 deaths happening everyday from drug overdose, emergency responders are also now being trained on how to address this issue and save lives when faced with similar situations. For people who are seeking to recover from their opioid addictions, there are safe and effective opioid addiction treatment programs that they can take part in.
If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction, please contact Lighthouse Treatment Center today. We are happy to provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced treatment advisors. Help is available today.