OPIOID ADDICTION text word collage, colorful fabric on blue denim, abuse and treatment concept, horizontal aspect

What You Need to Know About the Opioid Epidemic

Millions of Americans have suffered from
opioid abuse since the 1990s when addiction began reaching epidemic levels.
Hundreds of thousands have died in what the Surgeon
deems a public health crisis. Many more may become victims
as the opioid black market continues to flourish.


The US Department of Health and Human Services
estimated that 47,600 people died from opioid overdoses in 2018 alone, with
around 130 people dying every day. Around 10.3 million Americans had abused
prescription opioids that year while 808,000 had used heroin, causing 15,349
overdoses in the 12-month period ending in February 2019. Some 2.2 million
people misused prescription opioids for the first time in 2018 while 81,000
people first tried heroin.

What is
an opioid?

Opioids, which all act upon the human
neurological receptor of the same name, include some of the world’s oldest
drugs. Found naturally in the latex of the opium poppy, they have long been
used by humans for pain treatment but also have a long history of recreational
abuse. The main intoxicating component in opium is morphine, which scientists
began extracting in the 19th century. It is from morphine that chemists first
began manufacturing heroin in the late 19th Century. Codeine, another drug used
both legitimately and illicitly, is also found in opium. Today, numerous
synthetic opioids, such as hydrocodone, fentanyl and oxycodone, are manufactured
both legally and illegally.

How did
the opioid crisis begin?

The opioid crisis is generally thought to have
begun in the late 1990s at a time when pharmaceutical companies were
aggressively marketing new, synthetic brands of opioids. Patients were often
told that the new drugs were less addictive than the old ones. Unfortunately,
many thousands did become addicted. When their prescriptions ran out, many
resorted to the flourishing black market of opioid pharmaceuticals where they
paid exorbitant prices. As illicit demand increased, many people switched to
heroin as the price for illegally-sourced pharmaceuticals exceeded its banned

are the effects?

Opioids give immense feelings of euphoria to
their users. Pain, both physical and mental, is greatly reducing leading to a
strong sense of contentment. But as physical dependence kicks in, opioids
become necessary to prevent pain from their absence as the human body loses its
ability to regulate its own supply of the endogenous opioids that it naturally
produces. Withdrawal includes intense flu-like symptoms, such as vomiting and
muscle pain. But even after the initial symptoms subside in a couple weeks,
recovering users struggle with longing for the immense contentment that they
felt while abusing narcotics.

How can
you tell if someone is on opioids?

One of the most obvious symptoms for opioid
abusers is the shape of the pupil. When someone is on an opioid, the pupils
constrict. It is common for someone addicted to opioids to have their pupils never
fully dilate back to their normal size until they are off the drugs. People who
regularly use opioids may also demonstrate dramatic mood shifts, showing
feelings of joy and agreeability while high and agitation while sober. The mood
swings may become less visible over time as the user may simply avoid human
contact while not on drugs.

How can
you help someone addicted to opioids?

It is important to avoid appearing accusatory. Understand that while opioid
addiction is a dangerous disease, people must want to seek treatment in order
to recover. Explain that you love him or her and only want to see them get
better. If he or she appears reluctant to get help, showing anger is only
likely to cause feelings of alienation. At the same time, do not be an enabler.
If someone you suspect is using opioids asks you for money, do not be afraid to
ask how they will spend it.


Opioid abuse is not limited to any particular
segment of society. Anyone ranging from at-risk teenagers to wealthy retirees
may become hooked if they begin using. They may come from any race, economic
class or religion. If you suspect that you or someone you love may be addicted
to opioids, do not turn away.