Opioid addiction is a chronic and relapsing disease that can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status. It is caused by the repeated use of opioid drugs, such as heroin, oxycodone, fentanyl, or morphine, that alter the brain chemistry and create a strong dependence on the substance. People with opioid addiction may experience intense cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and negative consequences in their personal and professional lives.
However, recovery from opioid addiction is possible with proper treatment and support. Treatment for opioid addiction may include medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which involves using medications such as buprenorphine, methadone, or naltrexone to reduce cravings and prevent relapse. MAT is most effective when combined with behavioral therapy, which helps people learn coping skills, address underlying issues, and rebuild their self-esteem and relationships.
Recovery from opioid addiction is not a one-time event, but a lifelong process that requires commitment and perseverance. People in recovery may face challenges and setbacks along the way, but they can also find hope and healing in their journey. Recovery from opioid addiction can improve the quality of life for individuals and their families, as well as benefit society as a whole.
Opiates have been used for centuries for their pain-relieving effects and recreationally. However, due to their addictive nature, opiates can lead to dependence, tolerance and addiction if used persistently.
In the early 1800s, a German pharmacist named Friedrich Serturner was able to isolate the alkaloid from the opium poppy plant and called it morphine2. Morphine was used to control pain during the Civil War in the United States and many soldiers became addicted23. The Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 placed restrictions on opioids in order to limit their commercial use3.
Over the past two decades, opioid-related hospitalizations and deaths in North America have reached the level of a public health emergency. The epidemic of opioid misuse was largely driven by pharmaceutical companies and initiated by their spread of misinformation, which led physicians to engage in overzealous prescribing behavior1.
Pharmaceutical companies deceptively promoted opioid use in ways that were often neither safe nor effective, contributing to unprecedented increases in prescribing, opioid use disorder, and deaths by overdose2. Some of the major players who took part in creating the opioid epidemic include Purdue Pharma, Abbott Labs, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Novartis and Covidien3.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that was created in labs in the 1960s12. It is some fifty times more potent than heroin and has been driving the opioid crisis in recent years3. Fentanyl was legally manufactured and prescribed as an intravenous anesthetic after its development, but its illegal manufacture and distribution have become a major threat to public health3.
Like heroin, morphine, and other opioid drugs, fentanyl works by binding to the body’s opioid receptors, which are found in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. After taking opioids many times, the brain adapts to the drug, diminishing its sensitivity, making it hard to feel pleasure from anything besides the drug4.
Opioid withdrawal can occur in anyone who is dependent on the drug, especially if they suddenly reduce their dose or stop using it altogether. Opioid withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, insomnia, anxiety, increased body temperature and a racing heart1.
Treatment for these symptoms involves tapering off of opioids slowly. The main treatment is to replace the short-acting drug with a longer-acting opioid, such as methadone or buprenorphine (Buprenex)2. Because it can be hard to give up opioids safely, most people should get a doctor’s help to quit. They may give you drugs that make your symptoms easier to deal with and help with cravings3.
There are several therapeutic techniques that can help with opioid addiction and cravings. Some of these techniques include meditation, mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises and hypnosis therapy1.
Inpatient and outpatient rehab programs can provide medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and other treatment to help you overcome opioid cravings while you recover. Other helpful approaches include 12-step programs, individual therapy, group counseling, and a dual diagnosis approach (for those with a mental health condition in addition to an opioid issue)2.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (primarily fentanyl) continued to rise with 70,601 overdose deaths reported in 20211. Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths2.
There is a significant risk of getting fentanyl in other drugs. Illegal fentanyl is being mixed with other drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and MDMA1. This is especially dangerous because people are often unaware that fentanyl has been added1.
The high potency of fentanyl greatly increases the risk of overdose, especially if a person who uses drugs is unaware that a powder or pill contains it. They can underestimate the dose of opioids they are taking, resulting in overdose1.
A caregiver can encourage recovery from opioid addiction by refusing to ignore or endure their loved one’s addiction and reaching out for professional help right away1. It may also be helpful to ask how you can support their recovery and keep in touch with them during treatment1.
Structure and a daily routine can also be helpful for someone recovering from opioid addiction. Encouraging them to plan their day and find a hobby they enjoy can help keep them on track2. Outpatient counseling and inpatient rehabilitation can also provide support and help them understand their addiction, triggers, and reasons for using drugs3.