Shocking Facts about Opioids

Written by Chloe Nicosia

Is your loved one struggling with prescription opioid abuse? Learn how detoxes and rehabs can help.

“The United States is in the midst of the worst drug epidemic in its history,” states Dr. Andrew Colodny, the executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing. Opioid medications are highly addictive, and when they are abused can cause dependence and sometimes death by overdose. Opioid overdose death is on the rise in the U.S. and is expected to increase. Here are some interesting facts about opioids everyone needs to know:

  1. Opioid drugs include illicit heroin, codeine, and the prescription pain pills oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, fentanyl and others. They are chemically related to and affect the opoid receptors in the brain and central nervous system, diminishing the perception of pain and creating feelings of euphoria in the user. Prescription opioid abuse can lead to addiction, which is a chronic, recurring brain disease.


  1. Opioid addiction statistics are distressing. In 2015, 2 million Americans had a substance use disorder related to prescription opioid pain pills. Heroin addicts accounted for 591,000 Americans in the same year. An estimated 23% of all individuals who use heroin will develop an opioid addiction.


  1. Opioid prescription pain medication accounted for 20,101 overdose deaths in 2015, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin occurred in the same year. Prescription opioid abuse can lead to addiction, as can heroin abuse.


  1. Nearly 80% of Americans who abused prescription opioid medications went on to use heroin as a replacement when they could no longer get a prescription for their medication. Heroin is an opioid drug derived from morphine, and when it enters the brain it turns back into morphine. Research has shown that heroin causes a deterioration of white matter in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, affecting executive functions. Long-term use of heroin can cause the brain to reduce or stop producing endorphins.


  1. Fentanyl is an opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but can be up to 50 to 100 times more potent. Fentanyl and heroin both have similar effects that include: euphoria, sedation, confusion, tolerance, addiction, respiratory depression or arrest, unconsciousness, coma and death. Illicit Fentanyl is usually mixed with heroin and cocaine, and has a high risk of overdose.


  1. As opioids flood the brain with dopamine, neurotransmissions begin to dull and neuronal chemistry is altered, and this affects the central nervous system. Automatic processes in the body, such as respiration and blood pressure, are regulated by the opioid receptors. Opioids can severely alter brain chemistry affecting vital life functions, which may begin to shut down resulting in brain damage, coma or death. Addicts of prescription painkillers may experience adverse opioid effects such as: heart attack, mood swings, drug cravings, psychosis, sedation, respiratory depression, suicidal thoughts, and overdose.


  1. Addiction to oxycodone can produce effects such as: anxiety, delusions, psychosis, depression, anger, suicidal thoughts, liver and kidney damage, respiratory depression, coma, overdose and death.


  1. Some people who abuse hydrocodone are shown to have co-occurring mental disorders, such as: bi-polar disorder, alcohol use disorder, clinical depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, personality disorders, and substance abuse disorder. Prescription opioid abuse of hydrocodone can cause adverse effects such as: anxiety, confusion, anger, respiratory system failure, cognitive impairment, liver disease and failure, psychosis, depression, seizures, loss of consciousness, coma, and death.


  1. Facts about opioids should include morphine, which is the main element of opium. Prescription opioid abuse of morphine is a high risk for addiction, which can create dangerous health complications such as: hallucinations, circulatory inflammation, a weakened immune system, a risk of blood-borne diseases, collapsed veins, trouble urinating, loss of consciousness, coma, and death by overdose.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in terms of abuse and mortality, prescription opioid abuse accounts for the largest proportion of the prescription drug abuse problem.  Deaths related to prescription opioids began to rise in the early part of the 21st century.  By 2002, death certificates that listed opioid analgesic poisoning as the cause of death, were more common than heroin or cocaine related deaths. These facts about opioids reveal that we have a huge opioid abuse and addiction problem in America.