Opiate Addiction

A global crisis exists today – not just in the United States, but across the globe. It’s not exactly an economic crisis, though the waste of finances is certainly involved. Nor is this crisis an issue of terrorism or war, though a battle is, in fact, raging over the lives of countless individuals who are being taken over by a tyrannical substance. That substance is opiates – or, more generally referred to as opioids. Developed and prescribed as painkillers, the pleasure they provide is addicting, both physically and psychologically. In fact, opiates are so highly addictive that even low doses and conservative prescriptions may quickly create a need in patients to keep taking these potent chemicals.1

What Are Opiates?

Opiates (or, more inclusively, opioids) are a class of drugs that include the illicit drug heroin and physician supervised morphine and codeine, as well as more commonly used prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone,hydrocodone, fentanyl and other analgesics. Sold under a variety of trade names, all of these substances are both powerful in their effects and highly addictive to their users.2

Sometimes manufactured naturally from the poppy plant, sometimes produced synthetically (created chemically in a lab) and sometimes a combination of both processes, these narcotics might be swallowed (in pill form), injected (by syringe), or even smoked or snorted (inhaled).3

Opiate Use Fatalities Are Dramatically Rising

Deaths by overdose or abuse of opiates (or other opioids) continue to increase in the United States. The majority of drug overdose fatalities (more than six out of ten cases) involve these particular substances. Since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving heroin and prescription opioids quadrupled. From 2000 to 2015, more than half a million people died from drug overdoses. This translates to an alarming rate of 91 Americans dying every day from overdose of opiates or other opioids.

A major contributor to this epidemic is the increase in painkiller prescriptions written by physicians. Since 1999, the number of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. quadrupled.4To put this in perspective, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids in 2012, which is more than enough to give every American adult a bottle of pills.And yet,since 1999, no significant change is reported in the amount of pain experienced by Americans.4

How Opiate Addiction Works

Science of Addiction

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Repeated exposure to escalating dosages of opiates alters the brain so that it functions more or less normally when the substance is present and abnormally when it is not.

Two unfortunate phenomena involved in this brain alteration are: opioid tolerance (the need to take higher and higher dosages of drugs to achieve the same opioid effect) and drug dependence (susceptibility to withdrawal symptoms). Withdrawal symptoms occur only in patients who have developed a tolerance to a particular substance.5

Opiate addiction is a condition that goes beyond the desire for that chemical in order to feel “normal.” It manifests itself in uncontrollable cravings, inability to control opiate use, compulsive opiate use, and use of opiates despite the harm they are causing to the user and others.6

With extended opiate use, the nervous system and the brain stop producing hormones and chemicals needed for naturally dulling pain or producing a feeling of happiness or well-being.Prolonged opiate use may also cause any number of other medical complications, including liver disease, abscesses, pneumonia and pulmonary complications of the heart valves and lining.5

Startling Trend: Heroin Use Follows Prescription Analgesics

Four in five new heroin users today are believed to have started out by misusing prescription painkillers.94% of respondents in a2014 survey of people in treatment for opioid addictions aid that they chose to use heroin instead because prescription opioids were “far more expensive and harder to obtain.”

Additional disturbing findings gathered in 2015:

  • 276,000 adolescents are non-medical users of (that is, not personally prescribed) pain relievers.
  • 122,000 of those adolescents have an addiction to prescription pain relievers.
  • Approximately 21,000 adolescents used heroin in the past year; 5,000are current heroin users.

People often share their unused pain relievers, unaware of the dangers of non-medical opioid use.Most adolescents who misuse prescription pain relievers are given them for free by a friend or relative.2

Other Major Risks Are Often Connected with Opiate Addiction

An opiate addiction can lead to risky conduct that puts the user and others at risk, like driving under the influence and having unprotected sex. Car accidents and sexually transmitted diseases can hurt innocent strangers or loved ones. Such incidents may severely impact the user and others for an entire lifetime.3

In addition, mental illnesses often play a part in the choice to abuse opiates and other drugs.

Successful Treatment Options for Opiate Addiction

In addition to behavioral therapy (replacing negative thoughts and addictive behavior with positive, healthy alternatives), medicationsthat are shown to be helpful include:

  • Buprenorphine(brand names Subutex® and Suboxone®) –This medication relieves drug cravings without producing the “high” or dangerous side effects of opiates. Suboxone contains naloxone, which prevents attempts to get high by injection the med. It does this by inducing withdrawal symptoms, which are averted when Suboxone is taken orally as prescribed.
  • Naltrexone(Depade® or Revia®)– This drug blocks the action of opiates, is not addictive or sedating, and does not result in physical dependence. An injectable long-acting formulation of naltrexone (under the name Vivitrol®) recently received FDA approval for treating addiction to all opioids.
  • Methadone (Dolophine® or Methadose®)– Used since the 1960s to treat heroin addiction, it is still an excellent treatment option, particularly for patients who do not respond well to other medications.7

Quality, Comprehensive Treatment Is Offered at The Canyon

With The Canyon’s innovative, evidence-based treatment services, patients can get control over their addiction to opiates, beginning with medically managed detox and continued through inpatient or outpatient rehab. Under our expert guidance, patients are helped to regain their authentic self as they learn and practice strategies for living without drug dependency.

In treating the whole person, The Canyon’s specialists are also able to address any accompanying mental health issues, which so often act to initiate and/or result from a drug addiction. Personalized, tactical treatment designed specifically for each patient. That’s what The Canyon can offer you. Call us anytime 24/7 on our toll-free line. We want to earn your trust.


1“Opioids: The Prescription Drug & Heroin Overdose Epidemic”, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/, (March 24, 2016).

2 “Opioid Addiction: 2016 Facts & Figures”, American Society of Addiction Medicine, http://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf.

3 “America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse”, National Institute on Drug Abuse, https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2016/americas-addiction-to-opioids-heroin-prescription-drug-abuse, (May 14, 2014).

4“Injury Prevention and Control: Opioid Overdose – Understanding the Epidemic”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/, (December 16, 2016).

5 Kosten, Thomas R., M.D., et.al., “The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment”, National Center for Biotechnology Information, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2851054/.

6 “Physical Dependence and Addiction”, The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment, http://www.naabt.org/addiction_physical-dependence.cfm , (March 12, 2016).

7“Heroin”, National Institute on Drug Abuse, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-treatments-heroin-addiction, (November 2014).

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