Understanding the Opioid Overdose Epidemic Answers to Common Questions and Misconceptions

The opioid overdose epidemic has affected virtually every state in the country with devastating consequences. According to the most recent figures available from the Health Resource and Service Administration (HRSA), more than 130 people die every day from opioid overdoses, and in certain geographical regions, the overdose rate has skyrocketed at alarming rates. The opioid crisis in America now has the attention of lawmakers, healthcare providers, law enforcement and, most importantly, the families who suffer.

Unfortunately, many family members and friends of those suffering from addiction do not know how to recognize signs of opioid addiction or opioid use disorder until it is too late, after an opioid overdose has occurred. But there is help available for people in the throes of opioid dependence.

Substance abuse treatment centers and healthcare professionals are acutely aware of the opioid overdose crisis, and are responding with immediate action. While they are desperately trying to keep up with the pace of inpatient and outpatient admissions, there are other levels of effort being taken on by legislators, healthcare providers, pharmacies and first responders. Their primary focus is on public awareness and education.

To understand the phenomenon and contributing causes of the opioid epidemic in our country, we answer the most common questions and concerns.

  • Define opioid.Opioid drugs are a class of pharmaceuticals that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids, and other legal pain relievers available by a physician’s prescription, such as oxycodone, Vicodin, codeine, percocet and morphine.
  • >li>Is fentanyl an opioid?Yes! Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, and is several times more potent as a pain reliever than heroin and oxycodone, often illegally manufactured, and dangerously added to street opioids. It is increasingly the cause of unintended opioid overdoses, and users often have no way of knowing that their pills or heroin are laced illegally with fentanyl. Fentanyl pills or patches were originally designed for severe pain relief for cancer and hospice patients.

  • How can I identify signs of heroin use, signs of heroin addiction or other another opioid use disorder?Symptoms of opioid abuse aren’t always obvious, as many families can sometimes publicly attest. Eric Bolling, the popular former Fox News commentator, for example suffered immeasurable loss when his 19 year old son died of an overdose in 2017. In subsequent interviews, Bolling expressed that he and his wife had no knowledge of their son’s use of opioid drugs. Families are encouraged to obtain drug information for any member who is prescribed medications for any reason, and parents should be well informed and participatory in their children’s healthcare and lifestyle choices. Social isolation, severe moodiness, loss of appetite and abnormal hygiene are typical signs that should not be ignored.
  • How do I recognize heroin withdrawal, oxycodone withdrawal or Vicodin withdrawal?Opioid withdrawal symptoms are NOT to be ignored, since withdrawal is a very dangerous medical situation, and should be treated by medical professionals immediately. Severe nausea, dehydration, tremors, profuse sweating, etc. are typical of a withdrawal.
  • What are the root causes of opioid addiction?The opioid crisis in America is unfortunately complicated by the fact that many opioid overdoses are caused from misuse of painkillers that were originally prescribed legally by physicians for treatment of post operative procedures or chronic pain. It is a myth that opioid overdose victims are primarily illicit drug users, such as heroin or fentanyl addicts. Many overdoses originated from patients who unintentionally and gradually progressed into opioid addiction.
  • How can families participate in the solution?Professional addiction treatment is necessary for positive outcomes for opioid and substance use disorders. Fortunately, the medicine of addiction treatment is improving with public awareness, patient and physician educational outreach, pharmacist intervention and other grassroots efforts to address the strangulating opioid epidemic in America. An internet search for public health resources can point patients and families towards recovery solutions.

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