Pharmaceutical companies are in the news quite a bit, lately, regarding being held accountable for contributing to the opioid epidemic in America. There are many who blame these industries for not being open about the dangers of the drug before putting them out into the market for doctors to prescribe. The government has been pushed by public outcry to hold someone responsible, and the drug manufacturers have been identified as the source of the problem.
Whether you agree with this approach to the problem, or not, the fact remains that opioid addiction is a critical issue. Over 47 thousand people died from an opioid overdose in 2017. As of January of this year, statistics reveal that over 100 people are still dying, daily, from the drug. This is in spite of it being declared a public health emergency, by the president, nearly three years ago.
Restrictions on Prescription Opioids
The majority of states in our country have now passed laws with the intention of restricting patient access to opioids. For patients who are still able to obtain a prescription for it, limits on dosages, prescription lengths, and refills have been enacted. Not only is it hoped that these limits will result in less addiction for those who are genuinely in pain, it is also an attempt to prevent the reselling of prescription medications on the black market.
Synthetic Opioids and Heroin
As the habit of doctors to prescribe opioids for pain relief is decreasing, the market for illicitly crafted opioid substances is increasing. These so-called designer drugs mimic the effects of prescription opiates, but delivery a potency that is many times over. The fact that there is no regulation of ingredients for these substances makes for an even scarier prospect.
Another setback in the war on opiates occurred with the resurgence of heroin use. People who found themselves denied from prescription opioids have turned to using heroin as a substitute. For some, finding a source of illegal heroin was easier than dealing with the withdrawals from the prescription. Over 15 thousand people died from a heroin overdose in 2017.
Brain and Body Dependency
Opioid drugs bind to receptors in the brain, and direct them to release certain chemicals. These chemicals are the ones responsible for experiencing pleasurable sensations, which is why the user experiences a high from the drug. Over time, the brain forgets how to produce these chemicals without the instruction of the opioid to do so. In the absence of the drug, the brain will neglect to produce what is necessary to experience pleasure.
Furthermore, the brain will begin to require higher doses of the drug in order to respond, at all. This process comprises the development of a tolerance Tolerance is one of the first indicators that the formation of an addiction is in place. Addicts will begin to rely on the drug for feeling good, and then will need more of it to achieve that goal.
The body of an opioid user also suffers. Opioids negatively affect the natural pleasure which is gained from eating food, which can have an impact on appetite. Overeating or under eating habits become common, which can lead to nutrition deficits or obesity. Combined with the tendency toward poor eating habits is the effect of the drug on the digestive system. Opioids cause the digestive track to become lazy, resulting in conditions such as nausea, stomach pain, and constipation.
Opiates produce a feeling of calmness in a user due to its depression of heart and breathing rates. In overdose cases, this relaxation of vital process is what contributes to coma and death. Blood and oxygen is not able to properly circulate in an overly depressed cardiovascular system. The brain, muscle tissues, and organs can fail from lack of blood and oxygen.
The end result of these regulating effects of the drug is physical dependence. Physical withdrawal from opiates can be a highly uncomfortable and dangerous experience. During withdrawal, addicted persons will typically suffer from severe flu-like symptoms which last for weeks. These symptoms tend to start within just a couple of days after ceasing the usage.
Addiction and Mental Health
Opioid abuse is arguably even more devastating from the mental health angle. While the physical aspects of the drug creates dependence, it is the mental aspect which feeds addiction. Studies have indicated that more than half of the people who seek out opioid prescriptions are also those who suffer from mental health disorders. There is also information which supports the idea that opioid use creates such issues.
Whether the mental health problems are what is spurring the opioid abuse, or whether the opioid use is creating the mental health problems, the problems are not able to be properly addressed while under the influence of the drug. Opioids contribute to both memory loss and a decrease in ability to think clearly. Many benefits of treatment for mental health disorders, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, depend on a person’s ability to utilize these two aspects of consciousness.
The Problem is Not New
Opioids have been prescribed as a remedy for pain in America since the mid 19th century. As early as 1848, a pharmaceutical company had it packaged in a form for distribution. And, almost as soon as it emerged, it became a problem. The government has been initiating regulations on forms of opioids since the early 1900’s. Our population’s tendency toward becoming addicted to this feel-good chemical is persistent.
It is still too early to determine whether this latest push for control over the substance is going to be effective. Even if so, and if history is any indication, the chances are good that another addictive substance will simply arise to take its place. The root problem of substance addiction lies on a much deeper level than simple matters of access. People need to find the health and healing that is necessary to avoid such extreme methods of escapism. Obtainment of mental wellness is the true remedy for addiction.