In 2017, more than 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids.
Opioids are a class of drugs that include prescription pain relievers, synthetic opioids and heroin. These natural or synthetic chemicals interact with opioid receptors on the nerve cells in the body and brain and reduce feelings of pain.
Opioid use disorder is a chronic lifelong disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition describes opioid use disorder as a problematic pattern of opioid use leading to problems or distress, with at least two of the following occurring within a 12-month period:
- Taking larger amounts or taking drugs over a longer period than intended.
- Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control opioid use.
- Spending a great deal of time obtaining or using the opioid or recovering from its effects.
- Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use opioids
- Problems fulfilling obligations at work, school or home.
- Continued opioid use despite having recurring social or interpersonal problems.
- Giving up or reducing activities because of opioid use.
- Using opioids in physically hazardous situations.
- Continued opioid use despite ongoing physical or psychological problem likely to have been caused or worsened by opioids.
- Tolerance (i.e., need for increased amounts or diminished effect with continued use of the same amount)
- Experiencing withdrawal (opioid withdrawal syndrome) or taking opioids (or a closely related substance) to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Abruptly stopping use of opioids can lead to severe symptoms including generalized pain, chills, cramps, diarrhea, dilated pupils, restlessness, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, and very intense cravings.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is an effective treatment for individuals with an opioid use disorder. MAT is a combination of medication along with counseling and behavioral therapies. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) emphasizes that these medications do not substitute one addiction for another; it helps reduce opioid cravings and withdrawal, and it helps restore balance to the brain.
Naloxone is a life-saving medication used to quickly reverse an opioid overdose. It can reverse and block the effects of other opioids and return normal breathing to someone whose breathing has slowed or stopped because of an opioid overdose.