Opioids are a class of drugs considered to be narcotic painkillers and are derived naturally or synthetically from the opium poppy. Opioid medications can be effectively prescribed for the temporary treatment of acute pain symptoms caused by back injuries, headaches, arthritis, cancer, and other conditions. Many opioid drug names are familiar to us: morphine, codeine, OxyContin, hydrocodone, Percocet, Vicodin, and Demerol. Though effective in relieving pain, opioids are also highly addictive substances. When over-used to simply mask feelings of pain without treating the underlying issue causing pain symptoms, individuals can find themselves overusing and misusing opioids with deadly consequences.
According to a study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately two million Americans are addicted to prescription opioids, and according to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 52 million Americans have used prescription drugs such as opioids for nonmedical reasons at least once in their lifetime. The long-term use of prescription opioids could pose such health risks as:
- Organ damage or failure, especially to the kidneys and liver
- Increased dosing and dependence due to an increased tolerance
- Psychological addiction and cravings
- Increased mental health symptoms like paranoia and depression
- Decreased cognitive function
One of the most serious consequences of long-term opioid use is brain damage caused by depressed respiration, or slowed breathing – a side effect of opioid use. Depressed respiration can negatively affect the amount of oxygen reaching the brain. This condition, known as hypoxia, can cause short- and long-term psychological and neurological effects. In the most severe cases, hypoxia can result in coma, or permanent brain damage.
Many individuals who find themselves addicted to painkillers fear that if they stop using the drugs, their pain will return and it will become unbearable. What those addicted to painkillers must understand, is that the drugs are not intended for long-term use. Those who attempt to quit painkillers after long-term use may be facing extremely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. The side effects of withdrawal after long-term opioid use may include:
- Intense muscle cramping
Without a proper detoxification plan and support network, individuals who attempt to quit often return to opioids in order to avoid the withdrawal symptoms. Individuals addicted to opioids should not attempt to simply quit cold turkey without proper medical intervention and support, as the consequences could be lethal.
If you or a loved one have been using painkillers for an extended period of time to manage pain, know that help and support are available to help you safely begin the process of rehabilitation. A proper detoxification treatment plan and professional resources can help you cope with withdrawal symptoms in a safe environment. With professional help to outline a recovery treatment plan, you will be well positioned to learn how to manage cravings in the short-term in order to remain opioid-free long-term.
For more information on how to break the cycle of addiction, contact the Painkillers Kill of WNY 24/7 confidential HOPE line at (855) 969-HOPE.