May 21, 2024

“Understanding Opioid Use Disorder: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment Options”

What is the Opioid Crisis? Understanding Opioid Use Disorder

The United States is currently facing an unprecedented public health crisis commonly referred to as the “Opioid Crisis.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 500,000 Americans have died from an opioid overdose since 1999. Opioid misuse has negatively impacted communities across the country, regardless of socioeconomic status, age, gender or race. To truly understand the enormity of this issue, it is important to examine what exactly opioid use disorder is and how it develops.

What are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs that include both illegal substances like heroin as well as prescription medications used to treat pain such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and others. Opioids work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and body to dull pain signals and create feelings of pleasure. While medically prescribed opioids can be effective for managing severe acute or chronic pain when taken as prescribed, they carry risks of misuse and addiction.

How does Opioid Use Disorder Develop?

The journey from initial opioid prescription to addiction is complex, but there are common experiences people often describe. Many who struggle with opioid addiction first took prescription medications as ordered by a doctor to manage pain. However, some patients continued use beyond the intended healing period because the drugs relieved distressing physical and emotional suffering very effectively. Over time, tolerance caused prescription doses to lose effectiveness, but discontinuing use led to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Some turned to acquiring prescription opioids, then later heroin, from other sources to avoid pain and withdrawal. This progression often happens gradually over months or years.

For an unlucky minority of those exposed to opioids, addiction develops abruptly from a single exposure or brief period of medically-prescribed use. Genetics appear to play some role in increased vulnerability to addiction for certain individuals. Regardless of how swiftly it happens, when opioid use continues despite significant health and social consequences, a substance use disorder has formed. At this stage, persistent drug craving and use take on a life of their own despite a person’s best intentions and efforts to stop. The non-medical use of opioids has transitioned from a choice into a compulsive behavior and medical condition known as Opioid Use Disorder.

What are the Physical and Psychological Effects of Opioid Use Disorder?

Living with Opioid Use Disorder can profoundly impact one’s quality of life, health and relationships. Physical symptoms result from changes in brain function and neurochemistry caused by chronic drug exposure. People may experience severe drug cravings, tolerance requiring higher doses for the same effect, and withdrawal when drug use discontinues. Untreated withdrawal symptoms include body aches, vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety and insomnia, which are extremely uncomfortable and reinforce continued use. Long-term opioid use may also negatively impact organ functioning, increase infection risk, and be a factor in fatal overdoses.

Psychologically, constant drug craving and use often leads to turmoil. People with Opioid Use Disorder tend to prioritize obtaining and using opioids above all else. They may continue using despite wanting to quit for their health, career, children or other responsibilities. Feelings of shame, low self-worth and despair are commonly described outcomes of opioid addiction. Further social, legal and financial problems often emerge due to drug-seeking behaviors. Mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety frequently co-occur with Opioid Use Disorder and serve to complicate clinical presentation and treatment.

How is Opioid Use Disorder Treated?

There is no single approach to treating Opioid Use Disorder, but current best practices involve Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) combined with counseling and support services. MAT involves using medications such as methadone, buprenorphine or naltrexone to reduce drug cravings and relieve withdrawal symptoms, making recovery more manageable. These medications are administered under medical supervision and have been conclusively proven to aid recovery when implemented properly. Therapies focus on coping with triggers, relapse prevention and harm reduction, as well as resolving underlying issues that led to substance misuse. Long-term recovery from Opioid Use Disorder typically requires months or years of sustained treatment and lifestyle changes. However, sustained remission is an achievable goal with integrated multidisciplinary intervention.

A Public Health Crisis Requires Urgent Solutions

As the impact of the opioid crisis continues unfolding nationwide with tragic overdose statistics, policy changes are sorely needed. Greater availability of affordable MAT and counseling resources is essential to expand access to treatment shown to save lives. Further steps include safer prescribing practices of opioid pain medications, increased distribution of naloxone overdose reversal kits, and expanded availability of drug misuse prevention programs. The crisis has exposed cracks in systems and a dire need for more comprehensive mental health and addiction care. Most importantly, compassionate attitudes must replace stigma, so those suffering find acceptance and hope of recovery. With multi-tiered support across healthcare, policy and cultural spheres, there is light to be seen at the end of this dark tunnel of a deadly epidemic ravaging America.

In summary, Opioid Use Disorder is a serious medical condition that develops due to biological and environmental factors. Ongoing treatment with medication-assisted therapies and counseling has been robustly shown to promote recovery and save lives. However, this crisis grows more lethal each day as access to care lags far behind need. Concerted action across all societal levels is imperative to stem further devastation from this worsening public health emergency and opioid overdose epidemic. With compassion and persistence, hope for turning the tide of this crisis can become reality. Lives in the balance demand nothing less than our most rigorous and urgent response.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it