There is a delicate line that all people balance on when they take prescription opioids in order to manage their pain. What would normally bring patients relief can sometimes get out of hand and instead take people’s lives down a darker path that can feel inescapable once an addiction to the opioids has developed. It is important to know the signs of both an opioid overdose and opioid abuse in order to help yourself, a friend, or a loved one seek help or treatment.
Our brains naturally produce endorphins that play a part in moderating levels of pain throughout the body. However, when the pain becomes too severe and our brain doesn’t produce enough endorphins for relief then we turn towards opiates in order to block the pain messages. But, alongside the use of these powerful pain relievers patients will always run the risk of dependency.
If the medication is taken outside of normal instructed use or more often then as suggested, a dependency on opiates can be more easily established and it becomes easier for things to spiral out of control. As their body builds a tolerance to the drug, patients must take higher doses in order to feel the same amount of relief as before. Patients may end up down the path of a continuous search for relief and fall into the use of more easily obtainable drugs, like heroin, in order to relieve their pains and symptoms of withdrawal.
Opioids such as morphine, tramadol, oxycodone, and methadone all have the potential to cause substance dependence along with other synthetic opioids such as heroin and fentanyl. This can show in various ways including impaired control over opioid use, persistent opioid use despite harmful consequences, increased tolerance, loss of interest in other activities or obligations, and physical withdrawal symptoms once opioid use has discontinued. During a period of withdrawal is the time when many opioid users can fall victim to an opioid overdose as they may seek drugs again in order to avoid the difficulty of the withdrawal symptoms. It is important to know the signs and symptoms of an overdose and make sure that you stay in touch with the opioid-dependent person and offer support during this part of their journey to seeking help towards treatment.
During an opioid overdose, a person’s breathing may slow or stop completely due to the drugs effect on the part of the brain that regulates respiratory depression. It may sometimes be difficult to tell whether or not a person is just experiencing a very strong high or is suffering from an overdose so be aware and alert of any of these signs in order to respond accordingly.
- Constricted pin-point pupils
- Falling asleep or loss of consciousness
- Shallow breathing
- Limp body
- Unresponsive to outside stimulus
- Choking or gurgling sounds
- Pale, blue or cold skin
When people survive an overdose, it is because someone is there to respond. Stay vigilant and try and be present for those in our lives who may fall victim to an overdose.
There are also certain things that can factor into the likelihood of someone falling victim to a drug overdose including:
- Taking high daily doses of prescription drugs
- Taking more opioids than prescribed
- Combining opioids with alcohol or other drugs
- Taking illicit drugs such as heroin or fentanyl
- History of sleep apnea, or reduced kidney or liver function
- If you are older than 65
A combination of sedatives, alcohol, and opioids are often found in fatal drug overdoses as this combination can increase the chances of respiratory depression and chances of death. However, it’s important to remember that overdoses can be prevented and that our communities can change to help reduce both the risk and the chances of fatal overdoses.
It is important to note that effective treatment is available for opioid dependence yet only 10% of people who need it can access it. Also, the majority of people who were dependent on opioids were using illicitly manufactured drugs such as heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. However, it is becoming increasingly more common for prescription opioids to be abused as the opioid epidemic continues to grow across the nation.
By increasing the availability of treatment that approaches opioid addiction from a modern medical standpoint we can help give those who are dependent on opioids a better chance at recovery. This includes creating facilities in areas that are hit harder uch as rural communities that already have a hard time in terms of access to appropriate medical care.
It is also important that we change the viewpoint that our nation and the medical community currently has about opioid addiction. Rather than treating it as a “chronic relapsing illness”, doctors should approach it from the angle of a disease in order to be able to open their minds to the possibility of treating it at the root cause rather than only it’s symptoms. By doing so we can move forward towards an age where treatment is no longer the same unsuccessful methods from 30 years ago but rather a more beneficial and humane treatment for patients of opioid addiction.