About Opioid Abuse

It’s no secret that opioid abuse is a widespread problem in the U.S. From prescription opioid abuse to drugs like heroin and street fentanyl, overdose deaths in America have climbed steadily since the mid-1990s. Opioids are among the most addictive substances in the United States that are prescribed.

The problem is daunting to be sure and the opioid abuse overdose statistics are eye-watering, to say the least. Nearly 50,000 people in the United States died from opiate-related overdoses in 2019 alone. According to the National Institute On Drug Abuse. However, there are good reasons for hope where the opioid abuse epidemic is concerned.

The rise in the abuse of opioids has brought a corresponding rise in demand for effective, evidence-based opioid addiction treatment. As one of the addiction treatment field’s key innovators, The Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center has risen to the challenge.

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are a category of drug that is most often used to treat moderate to severe pain in prescription form. All opioids are either derived from opium, an extract of the opium poppy plant, or synthesized.

Most prescription opioids, such as oxycodone (Percocet, OxyContin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lorcet) are referred to as semi-synthetic because they are partly derived from natural compounds. Fully synthetic opioids include fentanyl and buprenorphine. Illicit drugs like heroin and illegally manufactured fentanyl are also opioids.

All opioids are addictive. Use of an opioid, as prescribed or in the case of opioid abuse, can create opioid dependence in as little as 10 days. If a person has regularly taken opioids long enough to develop a dependence, they will experience some physical withdrawal symptoms when they stop. Opiates are most often prescribed after a person either has an injury or surgical procedure resulting in moderate to severe pain afterward.

Awareness of Opioid Abuse

While physicians are far more aware of the dangers of opioid abuse and dependence than in the past, it remains a problem. Medical science is developing non-habit-forming analgesic medications, but it has not yet been able to completely replace opioids. As long as opioids exist, legal or otherwise, opioid abuse will continue to be a threat. Education about opioid abuse and vigilance is a must.

Many people who are prescribed narcotic pain medications end up addicted through no fault of their own. They may simply take the medication long enough for physical dependence to take root. Others may take the medication for a prolonged period and find that the prescribed amount no longer has the desired effect, a phenomenon known as tolerance.

For many, the only way to overcome opioid abuse is clinical treatment at a program that can address every facet of addiction. Research shows that attending a qualified dual-diagnosis opioid abuse treatment program like ours dramatically improves outcomes. Not only are people who get the right treatment more likely to end their abuse of opioids successfully, but they are also more likely to remain sober in the long term.

Examples of Opioids

There are many examples of prescription opioid pain medications on the market today. With all of the brand names and variations, it can be hard to keep track. As a rule, though, any opioid medication in the United States is a controlled substance. This means a doctor’s prescription will be required, a government photo ID to pick up the prescription and refills will be strictly limited and controlled. Chances are any pain medication you receive that falls under all those conditions are likely opioid and potentially addictive.

Below we’ve provided a list of many of the more common prescription medications we see in opioid abuse patients along with some of their brand names. Note that buprenorphine is included as it is a synthetic opioid, however, it is most often prescribed for opioid detox or medication-assisted treatment/harm reduction. Buprenorphine was engineered for these purposes and lacks the euphoric side effects of conventional opioids which makes it far less likely to be a factor in opioid abuse. However medium to long-term use does require a careful taper/titration to mitigate potential withdrawal symptoms.

Common Prescription Opioid Medicines:

  • Oxycodone (Percocet, OxyContin, Percodan, Tylox)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, Xodol, Zohydro)
  • Morphine (MSContin, Kadian, Avinza)
  • Oxymorphone (Opana)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, Sublimaze)
  • Codeine (Tylenol 3, Antituss AC)
  • Methadone (Methadose, Dolophine)
  • Buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex, Zubsolv)
>Examples of Opioids

Opioid Abuse and Its Effects

Most opioids, aside from synthetics like buprenorphine and methadone, produce euphoric side effects. The euphoria, sense of warmth and well-being, and calm these drugs create are part of the allure that can trigger opioid abuse behavior. A person who doesn’t take opioids regularly is just as likely to notice negative side effects like nausea, itchiness, dizziness, and drowsiness as they are to note the euphoric effects. However, when a person becomes habituated to taking these drugs over time and uses them in large quantities, the “high” they seek typically becomes much more prominent than any unwanted side effects, or at least it is where their focus is.

Of course, the negative effects of opioid abuse are just as present as before. In fact, when a person becomes opioid-dependent and begins the cycle of opioid abuse, a myriad of negative consequences ensue. The physical side effects often include constipation, sometimes serious enough to warrant medical intervention, dry mouth, watery eyes, itchy skin, daytime drowsiness, and “nodding” or falling asleep at inappropriate times. As addiction escalates, the desire for the drug and the fear of withdrawal often drives people to negative and even desperate behaviors that are seemingly out of character for them. It’s not unheard of for someone in the grips of opioid abuse to steal medication from others, attempts to falsify prescriptions (a felony offense), or steal money or valuables to finance a habit once a legitimate doctor’s prescription can no longer satiate the desire.

In fact, many people who eventually come to opioid abuse treatment for heroin addiction began as patients with a legitimate and legal prescription for pain medications and things just got out of hand. It’s surprisingly common. When awareness about opioid abuse rose in the wake of the OxyContin epidemic, prescriptions for narcotic pain medications became harder and harder to come by. One unintentional side effect of this was that it drove many opioid-dependent people to the street to buy heroin or fake prescription tablets made with fentanyl. This in turn helped cause a spike in overdose deaths. 94% of respondents in one survey said they often chose to use heroin over prescription opioids because it is more affordable and easier to obtain.

The Spectre of Opioid Overdose

Overdose is a very real danger in the area of opioid abuse. Opioids by themselves carry a risk of fatal overdose leading the respiratory arrest. As a powerful central nervous system depressant though, they also have a compound effect when combined with other drugs in the same class. People engaged in opioid abuse are sometimes known to combine these drugs with others, such as benzodiazepines, like Xanax or Klonopin, and alcohol or non-benzodiazepine sedatives like Ambien. The compound effect of combining powerful drugs in the same class can make opioid abuse especially dangerous. These effects can be unpredictable and lead to fatal consequences.

Those who combine opioids and other substances, especially CNS depressants at the same time increase their risk of fatal overdose. This mixing is called polysubstance abuse.

Some signs of opioid overdose include:

  • Unconsciousness
  • Confusion/disorientation
  • Cool, clammy skin
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Constricted pupils
  • Shallow, restricted breathing
  • Appearing very pale or bluish skin
  • Extreme sleepiness/inability to wake up

Mercifully, many of those who overdose and survive sometimes use it as an opportunity to ‘take stock’ of their situation and ask for help with their opioid abuse. However surprising as it may seem however, even an overdose or brush with death is not enough to cease the abuse of opioids. In that cause it is often worth considering a family or professional intervention.

NARCAN (Naloxone) Saves Lives

The drug naloxone, better known under its brand name NARCAN, has been something of a godsend for people living with opioid abuse and the people who love them. The drug was invented decades ago, but the recent spike in opioid overdoses brought it into the public consciousness much more so than it was in the past. Thankfully under public pressure, the FDA and some forward-thinking politicians worked to change the status of this drug and make it much more available to the public, even without a prescription.

The nasal spray form of NARCAN (naloxone) has saved thousands of lives already by making this medication much easier for laymen to use successfully. NARCAN (naloxone) works by rapidly reversing the effects of opioids. Given to a person in the middle of an opioid overdose in time, it can be enough to reverse the CNS depressant effects to ward off respiratory arrest and stabilize them until they can reach a hospital. Bear in mind that NARCAN is not a substitute for treatment in an emergency room, much less an opioid abuse treatment program like ours at SBMHC.

But it can be a lifeline to someone in the midst of a potentially fatal overdose. NARCAN is now available without a prescription and there are even programs that provide it free of charge. If you or someone you love would benefit from having NARCAN on hand, give us a call for information on how you can obtain it for free or a price you can afford.

Treatment For Opiate Addiction

The most effective treatment for opioid dependence is medical detox followed by at least 30 days of intensive treatment. There is no such thing as getting “too much help” for a problem in fact. Research shows that people who spend more time in treatment for opioid abuse are less likely to relapse and far more likely to establish long-term recovery.

As an evidence-based treatment program, The Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center looks to science and peer-reviewed research for answers. It is science that informs our treatment methods. That is a must because, in this area of medicine, the results can be literally a matter of life or death. There is no room for half-measures or uncertainty.

Sylvia Brafman has several treatment options available including specialized programs to help those who suffer from substance use disorders, including opioid abuse. Our diverse treatment portfolio features all of the key ingredients for a successful recovery from addiction or any other mental health disorder.

If you are interested in the unique treatments and programs we have to offer, please contact us today. We welcome the opportunity to help you or your loved one build a foundation for enduring recovery.


Mental Health

Get Help Today

Substance Abuse

Get Help Today

Recent Posts

Your Mental Health in Medical School

Read More

Help: I’m Having a Mental Breakdown

Read More

PTSD and Suicidal Ideation in Veterans

Read More

Why Do I Feel Numb?

Read More

Follow Us