Due to a wide variety of factors, opioid abuse has skyrocketed in the recent years, causing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to label prescription drug abuse in the U.S. as an epidemic. Whether people are abusing their own prescription painkillers or resorting to heroin from street dealers, the outcome is always the same: addiction.
Despite considerable awareness generated by the federal agencies, such as the CDC, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) warning of the dangers of prescription opioids, prescription overdose deaths reached a record high in 2014. This was largely due to users’ erroneous belief that prescription drugs are safe and non-addictive.
NIDA notes that the rise in heroin use – and fatal heroin overdoses – is the result of the government cracking down on reckless prescribing practices and of the skyrocketing street costs for prescription pills. In big cities – New York, Miami, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles — a single pill of OxyContin can fetch up to $80. Many of today’s heroin addicts started abusing prescription drugs that were either looted from medicine cabinets or provided by family and friends. When the supply dried up, they turned to cheaper heroin.
Addiction to opioids
All addictions are insidious; what makes opioid addiction particularly heinous is the drug becomes the center of the addict’s universe. This is a terrible dynamic because people addicted to opioids physically crave the substance and become irrational, paranoid and desperate if they suspect they may have to go without. No doubt, memories of withdrawal contribute to this alarm. Symptoms of withdrawal include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness, involuntary leg movements, watery eyes, runny nose, loss of appetite, profuse sweating, chills, insomnia, hot flashes, muscle cramps, irritability and panic.
Opioids depress the central nervous system; this system controls respiration. One of the reasons why so many people overdose on opioids is they need to keep ingesting more and more of the drug to replicate that initial high. Chronic opioid use leads to the loss of dopamine receptors in the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter, which is responsible for the euphoria users experience when they ingest opioids. As the brain’s production of dopamine diminishes, users require more opioids to feel high. In truth, all they are doing is depressing their central nervous system and putting their lives at risk.