Opiate Addiction Resource
Opiate Addiction

Understanding Opiate Addiction and Finding Treatment

Opiate drugs are generally prescribed to those suffering from acute pain, chronic pain, post-surgery pain or a nagging cough. As a prescribed drug, many individuals feel comfortable using opiates, but they come with dangerous risks.

The opium poppy is responsible for a wide number of drugs – some legal, some not – that are more commonly referred to today as “opioids,” rather than opiates. Opioids come in many forms: pill, liquid, patch, etc. All opioids elicit at least some degree of euphoria, and this tempts many people to misuse them – and that can lead to addiction or overdose.

You’re probably well aware that there’s a current opioid epidemic going on in the U.S., so use this resource to learn vital, interesting facts about opioids: from the initial signs of addiction to the best treatment and recovery practices.

Understanding Addiction

Understanding Addiction Opiate Addiction: Physical Effects

To clarify, “opiate” is a term for drugs naturally derived from the narcotic compounds found in the opium poppy plant, such as heroin and opium. The Sumerians first discovered the pain-relieving effects of the poppy back in 3400 B.C. As medicine continued to advance, medical experts identified the individual compounds of morphine (in the early 1800s), heroin (mid-1800s) and oxycodone (early 1900s).

The term “opioid” is used today to encompass all of the natural, synthetic and semi-synthetic formulations of opiates. These are also commonly referred to as painkillers or narcotics.

When ingested, opioids attach themselves to the dopamine neurotransmitters found in two sections of the brain:

  • The area that helps govern speech and physical movement, and
  • The area that activates the sensations of pleasure and reward.

When the dopamine neurotransmitters are stimulated, they produce feelings of enjoyment, causing your brain to want to replicate that feeling again and again. Taking an opioid drug does the same thing; they are excellent pain relievers and stress reducers, but are highly addictive if used incorrectly.

Your body produces dopamine naturally, and when these opioids are released, they attach to your neurotransmitters the same way endorphins do, blocking the receptors that signal stress and pain while calming your body with a rush of euphoric feelings. Opioid drugs are extremely addictive because of their potent effect on the brain. They too cause a release of endorphins and dopamine, but the effect is much more powerful, and something that your body can’t duplicate on its own.

However, just like any drug that mimics how our own chemical receptors work instinctively, consistent use of opioids causes the brain to slow or even stop the production of its natural dopamine and endorphins. Once this happens, the only way for an opioid addict to feel “good” again is to continue using the drug, often in increasing doses, so they can feed their craving and feel the pleasurable rush they’ve grown so accustomed to.

Common Types of Opioids

As mentioned earlier, opioids come in illegal and legal varieties. The two main types of opioids that are illegal (and also happen to be naturally occurring) are:

  • Heroin
  • Opium

There are dozens of opioid-based drugs on the market available in prescription form, although some are more restricted than others. They range from Schedule II to Schedule V on the DEA’s list, due to varying degrees of addictiveness and potential for abuse.

Prescription opioid drugs (and their common brand names) include:
 

  • Morphine (naturally occurring)
  • Codeine (naturally occurring)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco)
  • Methadone (Methadose, Dolophine)
  • Fentanyl (Duragesic, Subsys)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Tramadol (Ultram)

Opioid Addiction: Who Has It?

What we’re seeing in the current opioid epidemic is that painkiller addiction has impacted every state and touched all sectors of society – every race, socio-economic status, gender, etc.

We initially noticed that many opioid users started out using a prescription version before moving on to dangerous and unregulated heroin. Hence, many states are starting to restrict how many opioid pills a doctor can prescribe and whom they can prescribe them to.

However, we’re more recently finding out that many of these individuals misused a prescription opioid before developing an addiction. This means one of the following:

  • The patient stopped taking the pills when the pain subsided, had some pills left over, and starting taking those pills later on without the doctor’s recommendation – either for recreation or to self-medicate.
  • The patient took more of the opioids than prescribed, such as double dosing.
  • A family member or friend either asked for or stole leftover prescription pills that were never intended for them, and took the pills recreationally.

If you’re granted a prescription for opioid drugs and your pain subsides before the end of the bottle, please take those pills to the nearest pharmacy to be disposed of properly. Do not let them fall into the wrong hands.

Statistics on Opioid Use, Addiction and Overdose

If you’re trying to gauge how large the opioid problem is in the United States, take a look at these alarming stats:
 

  • Opioids played a role in more than 30,000 overdose deaths in 2015, including about 13,000 involving heroin. Compare this to just over 10,000 such deaths back in 2002.
  • On average, 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
  • An estimated 2.2 million Americans are suffering from opioid addiction right now.
  • There has been a 400 percent increase in prescriptions written for opioid-based drugs in the last 10 years.
  • 80 percent of new heroin users started out by taking a prescription opioid.
  • The average opioid user who enters a treatment center tends to be white and between the ages of 20 and 39. Opioid users slightly skew male, as well.
If any of this criteria sounds like you, please get in touch with us for help: 1 (888) 789-4330
Treating Opiate Addiction

How Is Opioid Addiction Treated?

Searching for the right opiate addiction treatment center can be a daunting task that involves a difficult decision. We understand how challenging this is, considering that the individual is also struggling with the destruction that addiction brings to everyday life. Harmony Place is here to help families make that decision.

Whether the addiction is to heroin, prescription painkillers or multiple drugs (including alcohol), we can help. Our clinicians are also skilled in treating co-occurring mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety and PTSD. It is imperative that all problems are treated simultaneously, and it takes an expert team to do this.

Long-term use of opioids alters the function of the brain and its neurons, so treatment almost always requires medically supervised detox, as taking the drug away suddenly can cause a violent reaction in the brain, both physically and mentally.

If you or a loved one is experiencing addiction to or withdrawal from opioids, we don’t recommend waiting to seek help. At Harmony Place, we offer medically supervised treatment from detox through the remainder of rehab, in addition to several treatment modalities that address the psychological effects of addiction.

Healing the Mind, Body and Soul

When you enter into recovery at Harmony Place, you will be matched with a primary team that will include a licensed, seasoned psychotherapist and other holistic therapists who best address your needs.

You can also expect:

  • Three one-on-one therapy sessions held with a primary therapist weekly
  • Group therapy sessions (both primary and specialty groups)
  • Wellness activities off site where you will develop sober living skills and a support group
  • Individual and group holistic therapy, including acupuncture, mindfulness training, yoga and psychodrama
  • Experiential cooking program that brings together multiple holistic features, including nutrition and relationship building

Eating well is also part of holistic care. Our decorated chef understands this, and will work with you to create a meal plan that meets your nutritional needs and dietary preferences.

Frequently Asked Questions

FAQs and Interesting Facts About Opiates

Have any additional questions about opioid addiction and what’s involved in the treatment process? Browse through these frequently asked questions to see if we have your answer:

How can I spot potential opioid abuse in a loved one?

If you have a friend or family member who might be abusing opioids, they probably won’t be straight with you if you try to bring it up. Here are some things to look for if trying to make your own determination if an opioid addiction is unfolding:

  • Out-of-character elation or euphoria
  • Drowsiness, noticeable sedation, losing consciousness
  • Slowed breathing (respiratory depression)
  • Constricted pupils
  • Confusion
  • Mood swings
  • Isolation or withdrawal from relationships
  • Secrecy
  • Sudden financial issues
  • Neglect of personal hygiene
  • Dramatic weight loss or gain
  • Decline in work or school performance; decreased motivation

What is opioid withdrawal like?

Opioid withdrawal can be very intense, and even life threatening. Never attempt to self-detox from opioids at home.

Potential opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Tremors
  • Diarrhea
  • Panic attacks
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Psychosis
  • Strong cravings
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Overall weakness

What should I know if I’m ever given a prescription for opioid pills?

Prescriptions for opioid drugs increased by more than 300 percent in a recent 10-year span. During that time, these painkillers became the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States. Since then, the FDA has begun proposing tighter regulations on these drugs.

Yes, opioids can be used for legitimate reasons, but everyone should be aware of the latent dangers. Here are four important facts to remember if you or a loved one has just been prescribed an opioid for pain or another condition:

1. Opioids Are Not an Effective Solution for Chronic Pain

Opioid drugs are primarily prescribed to treat short-term pain that occurs after surgery or because of a serious injury. They are also commonly used to treat individuals who are in the final stages of life or who have terminal illnesses like cancer. However, they are not a strong long-term solution for common conditions like back pain, migraines or arthritis.

2. Opioids Can Be Addictive Even When Properly Used

A certain percentage of people will become dependent on prescription painkillers even when they use them exactly according to the doctor’s directions. For some individuals, only a small amount is enough to produce negative physical and mental effects that lead to higher doses and, eventually, long-term addiction.

3. Extended-Release Opioids Pose Additional Risks

Some doctors prescribe long-acting opioids with the idea that they are less likely to cause addiction. While these medications can help prevent breakthrough pain when a dose is missed and are not as likely to cause a drug “high,” they are in some ways even more dangerous than short-acting alternatives.

Because extended-release opioids are actually stronger, they are more likely to cause an overdose, even when used as prescribed. Because of these risks, the FDA has now required new labeling that indicates these drugs are specifically for individuals either battling pain from cancer or suffering from a terminal illness.

4. Leftover Pills Shouldn’t Be Taken

Many people who overdoses on opioids were taking medications that were not prescribed to them. Each person metabolizes opioids differently because of a variety of factors. Thus, what is safe for one person may not be safe for someone else.

If you have a prescription for painkillers, do not share it with anyone else. Likewise, do not take someone else’s leftover pills to treat a headache, back pain or any other condition.

While opiate addiction treatment can help an individual who is suffering from dependence, a better solution is to avoid abusing these drugs in the first place. Opioid painkillers are prescribed for very specific reasons. When they are used for these reasons, they can be very safe. However, when they are used off-label or by others, the dangers are exorbitant.

Do opiate drugs make you ‘unwell’?

Even the responsible use of pharmaceutical opioids can easily spiral into full-blown addiction in a relatively short time. This may prompt users to seek prescription painkillers from multiple doctors, illicit Internet peddlers or street dealers. Many users soon turn to heroin as a cheaper and more readily available alternative.

Depending on whether the drugs are swallowed, sniffed, smoked or injected, the narcotic effects vary. In general, narcotics that are swallowed or snorted take longer to produce dopamine – the brain’s feel-good chemical – than drugs that are smoked or injected.

The study of how drugs are processed by the brain and metabolized in the body is called pharmacokinetics. Researchers in this field have found that the faster a drug floods the brain with dopamine, the more quickly the user becomes addicted.

Various Health Risks

The health risks of using opioids also can vary by the method of delivery. Infections from using dirty needles, for example, can cause liver disease, serum hepatitis and tetanus, while smoking opiates can lead to severe respiratory problems.

Over time, users may develop heart and lung infections, as well as skin abscesses. Opioid abuse in any form harms nearly every system of the body, most notably the brain. Overdose, a pervasive and often fatal consequence of using opioids, occurs when the drug suppresses the brain stem’s respiratory function.

Withdrawing from opioids brings on a host of severe and painful symptoms (see the “What is opioid withdrawal like?” question above). Symptoms typically set in after four to six hours without the drug. This misery leaves the user frantic for another fix. For this reason, quitting “cold turkey” is highly discouraged.

So, to put it concisely: Yes, repeated use of opiate drugs typically does make a person “unwell.” The good news is the condition can be treated, and the user can, after months or years of hard work, eventually return to a clean bill of health.

How is heroin used?

Heroin can be used orally, intranasally, intravenously or through inhalation (smoking). Most popular among heroin and opiate addicts is the intravenous use of heroin, or smoking the drug.

What Heroin Is

Heroin is a refined version of the resin produced by the opium plant. This resin is extracted from the seed pod of the poppy plant. After one refining process, morphine is produced. Going through another refining process, heroin is produced. Heroin is most often found in powder form in colors ranging from brown to almost black.

Heroin purchased on the street is rarely pure. Most often, heroin is combined with a number of other substances to make the cost cheaper for producers, as well as consumers. Until recently, the substances cut into heroin – such as sugar, starch and other home items – were only a minor threat.

In recent years, however, heroin is often found laced with fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid which has tested to be up to 100 times stronger than morphine, which is stronger than heroin. Heroin is also sometimes cut with cocaine – a combination that can be deadly.

Why People Use Heroin

Heroin is a powerful analgesic, providing significant levels of pain relief, numbness and euphoria. By blocking the brain’s natural opioid receptors, heroin creates rushing sensations of calm and peace, while the user feels no pain.

Heroin is highly addictive. Most people don’t try heroin out of sheer interest. They often try it when they’ve tried most other drugs and abused alcohol, then found that nothing continues to provide them the powerful relief they are looking for. Many also try it only after their painkiller prescription has ended and they still feel that they need more of the same relief.

Within three uses or fewer of heroin, one can become addicted – especially if it is being used intravenously, which causes it to hit the bloodstream more quickly. People use heroin ongoing because they are addicted to the effects it produces. In addition, they become addicted to avoiding the withdrawal from heroin.

What happens when the heroin high goes away?

Desperation is a state of despair, one that results in extreme behaviors. Despair, by definition, is “the complete loss or absence of hope.” When someone is feeling desperate, they are feeling hopeless – so hopeless that they are willing to go to extremes to either feel hope again or not feel so desperate. Heroin is a desperate addiction.

Lows of a High

Many heroin addicts report that, in the end, the high wasn’t fun. Yet, they were desperate to find it. Nothing, they explain, can compare to the beginning when the rush and euphoria of heroin is as good as it can be without any tolerance or dependency in the body.

Over time, the body becomes used to and dependent upon the heroin. Needing more amounts of heroin more frequently, the body and brain become so obsessed with getting high on heroin that they cease to pay very much attention to the high at all. As soon as the high happens, the brain goes into panic, dreading the moment the high is over. Like a light bulb that struggles to burn all the way or a helium balloon that can’t reach the ceiling any longer, heroine wears a user down to a point of desperation.

Withdrawal from heroin is one of the most difficult to overcome. “Kicking” and “dope sick” are the two terms used to describe heroin detox. People experience restless legs and muscles, which leave them thrashing and kicking their legs as the drugs leave their bodies.

Flu-like heroin withdrawal symptoms include

  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Body Aches

More damagingly than anything, people report feeling intense cravings and obsessive thinking to continue using heroin, even if they cannot get high anymore. Though they are aware another injection might kill them, or that smoking more heroin will just lead them to experience withdrawal again, they continue to use. That is the desperation of heroin addiction.

How big of a threat is codeine addiction in the U.S.?

Codeine is often overlooked in conversations regarding the opioid epidemic. Though codeine is often abused, it is not a main cause of overdose or death among opioids. This is because codeine is still a highly regulated substance in America.

Prescription-strength cough syrups and cough medications contain codeine to reduce pain in the throat. Codeine is usually prescribed for:

  • Severe cases of bronchitis
  • Uncontrollable coughing
  • Chest infections

In other places around the world, codeine is available over the counter in cough drops. Most American drug store cough medications contain DXM (dextromethorphan), which is a highly addictive dissociative substance when abused in large quantities. However, it is not the same as an opiate substance.

Codeine Addiction Around the World

Countries like Australia, Ireland and several throughout Africa have seen a rise in addiction to codeine. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, some codeine addicts were “swallowing up to 100 tablets a day” and “pharmacist shopping” to get around rules that restrict purchases of more than five days’ supply of the drug at one time.

Australian government data has revealed that the number of Australian citizens being treated for addiction to codeine more than tripled in recent years.

Codeine Prescribing Practices in America

Currently, in the U.S., there are very few reports of codeine abuse or addiction. Getting a codeine prescription over and over again is difficult because, as a treatment for bronchitis and other cough-related illnesses, the drug is so effective.

Whereas pain can be mimicked and used to manipulate doctors for prescription, bronchitis cannot. One listen of the chest would let a doctor know that a patient is lying to get more drugs. Codeine is not often found in a pill form in the U.S., making it a difficult drug to buy on the black market.

Of course, codeine abuse during the course of a prescription can lead to abuse of other opioids. One of the main contributing factors to the current opioid epidemic is that people who become addicted to prescription opioids eventually turn to heroin. Codeine addicts could easily turn to heroin, as well, if their chemical dependency becomes severe enough to inspire them to do so.

Could studying dopamine be the answer to addiction?

Author and controversial addiction expert Maia Szalavitz argues that addiction is a learning disorder. Downplaying the widespread model of addiction as a brain disease that requires someone to hit rock bottom before getting help, she has emphasized addiction is a matter of learning.

According to the neuroscience model of addiction, she is right in some ways. The brain learns to associate feelings of extreme pleasure with drugs and alcohol. When the brain produces signals for cravings, it learns that the more intense the cravings are, the more likely there will be a reward of drugs and alcohol. Dopamine is one of the primary actors in this production. Drugs and alcohol stimulate an overproduction of dopamine, which gets sent to other key areas of the brain.

Dopamine’s role is significant because it is a neurotransmitter, a communication chemical in the brain that delivers messages of pleasure throughout this organ. Primarily, it communicates with the reward center of the brain. Though some studies have argued that the brain is actually wired for negativity, the brain loves feeling pleasure. Any amount of dopamine production is duly noted when the reward center lights up. Substance use lights the reward center up chronically, making the lesson very clear: Drugs and alcohol are good.

A Better Understanding

A new device developed by MIT could be the answer to learning more about dopamine and its critical role in the learning process. The new device allows researchers to study dopamine for a longer amount of time, compared to other methods and models.

“With this kind of long-term sensing,” Medical Xpress reported, “scientists should be able to track dopamine changes over long periods of time, as habits are formed or new skills are learned.”
In addition to providing insight, studying dopamine in a more intimate way will lead to greater understanding of the way the neurotransmitter contributes to memory and emotion. Both memory and emotion are key players in the addiction process.

Memory associations and attached emotions with the use of drugs and alcohol are so significant that euphoric recall, or fantasizing about positive memories of substance use, can cause the stimulation of cravings. Likewise, experiencing negative emotions or stress can also trigger cravings as the brain desires a production of dopamine.

Why are cocaine overdoses rising alongside opioid overdose rates?

Opioid abuse and addiction affected some 2.6 million Americans in 2015. The number of opioid overdose deaths that year reached upwards of 33,000, with some estimates putting the figure as high as 52,000 overdose deaths.

Opioids include narcotic pharmaceuticals, heroin and fentanyl. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), nearly 30 percent of patients who take prescription opioids misuse them, and as many as 12 percent will develop an opioid abuse disorder. These prescription painkillers are essentially legal heroin.

Once addicted, users who can’t obtain more prescription opioids often turn to street dealers for heroin and fentanyl. Shockingly, about 80 percent of heroin addicts say they began by misusing prescription narcotics, according to the NIDA.

Heroin and Cocaine Often Combined Together

Heroin (a synthetic drug derived from morphine) and fentanyl (an opioid similar to morphine, but 50 to 100 times more potent) are often “cut” with other drugs – frequently, cocaine.

Conversely, cocaine is often cut with heroin. Using a combination of the two drugs, typically via injection, is known as speedballing. Heroin smoked together with freebased cocaine is known as an 8-ball.

The effects of combining opioids with cocaine can alternately include:

  • Euphoria and irritability
  • Being talkative or withdrawn
  • Dilated pupils
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Passing out

Potentially Fatal Result

The combined effects of opioids and cocaine can be devastating. Cocaine, a powerful stimulant, increases the heart rate, while opioids, which are depressants, slow down the heart. Cocaine wears off much more quickly than opioids, and the result can be a fatal heart attack.

Toxicology findings in opioid overdose deaths show a co-occurring increase in cocaine overdoses, even without an increase in reported nationwide cocaine use. According to the NIDA, cocaine abuse in the U.S. has remained relatively stagnant since 2009 – at about 900,000 users annually – and is down significantly from its peak in the 1990s.

Drug abuse and addiction can be deadly, no matter the substance used. However, the opioid epidemic has brought this crisis to a whole new level. Without an infusion of significant resources and funding for education, treatment and research, this epidemic likely will show no signs of stopping.

How does the government track new synthetic drugs?

The Drug Enforcement Administration has a special testing and research laboratory in Virginia. There, forensic chemists and scientists analyze and test the various drugs they discover through the investigative work of the DEA. Recently, DEA forensic chemists have been very busy with synthetic substances, with new types coming in routinely.

Designer Drugs

Synthetic drugs have been called “designer drugs” because of their variety of colors, substances and potencies. On the web, social media has become a marketplace for drugs that are meant to imitate the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

“The proliferation of rapidly evolving synthetic opioids has become so fierce,” a Fox News article explained, “that the DEA says they now constitute an entire new class of drugs.” The article also said these drugs “are fueling the deadliest addiction crisis the United States has ever seen.”

Trying to catch a synthetic drug and its manufacturer is like trying to catch the world’s swiftest criminal. As soon as the DEA seizes and confronts a type of synthetic drug, another one is born. Though the country continues to deny its involvement in fueling the synthetic drug crisis in the United States, many products are coming from China.

Chemists who are creating the synthetic compounds rapidly change the formula for the drugs; making even the slightest change can make the drug undetectable. Furthermore, it makes the effects of the drugs undetectable as well.

Generally, synthetic opioids are highly potent. Synthetic versions of others drugs like amphetamines are potent, as well. However, the two have greatly differing side effects.

Fatal Synthetics

Fentanyl-like synthetic substances are fatal. They aren’t meant to create an addiction; that is, scientists are confounded as to how they could. These synthetic opioids kill. The reasons for their deadliness is the way they are created to be practically invisible.

Most of the time, people aren’t trying to buy bags of pure fentanyl. Instead they’re trying to buy heroin or oxycodone – other opioids.

“Dealers may not know that the high-purity heroin from Mexico they’re selling has been laced with fentanyl,” the Fox News article said. “Users may not realize the robin’s-egg blue oxycodone tablets they’re taking are spiked with acetylfentanyl [a designer version of fentanyl].”

Is medication required to safely detox from opioids?

More so than any other drug, medication is usually recommended to safely and somewhat comfortably overcome opioid withdrawal. At Harmony Place, we’re one of very few treatment centers in the country that are licensed to offer medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

This means that we have the option to prescribe certain medications to help clients safely detox from their original drug of choice. It also means that we will expertly taper the client off the new medication before he or she leaves rehab.

We don’t hand out medication during the detox process indiscriminately, though. Only certain clients will qualify for this treatment, such as those with no history of medication misuse.

Potential medications we may prescribe to certain clients in opioid detox include:

  • Buprenophine (Suboxone)
  • Methadone
  • Naltrexone (Vivitrol)

Learn Who Qualifies for MAT

What family services do you offer to your clients in rehab?

We deeply understand that families are an invaluable part of the opiate addiction treatment and recovery process. Even if families do not live in close proximity to Harmony Place, we will communicate with them and provide counseling.

Our opiate rehab offers a monthly family weekend to support the recovery process, in addition to a weekly multi-family group included in our curriculum. Families are also encouraged to use our website for resources like this page in order to learn more about their loved one’s addiction.

Do you offer discharge planning to those in rehab and about to graduate?

Certainly. Our discharge planning and aftercare services are another way that our treatment goes the extra mile for our clients. Recovery requires a continuum of care, beginning with residential treatment and progressing into sober living and outpatient services.

Your discharge planning begins soon after your arrival at Harmony Place. When you are ready to be discharged from our residential treatment center, you will already have an array of support services in place and ready for your use.

See More: Aftercare Services

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