Opioids are a type of drug that synthesizes the effects of the alkaloid precursor found in heroin, itself derived from the opium poppy. Opioid medications are generally used to treat chronic pain conditions and the most commonly prescribed include Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet. Like its street alternative, opioids are highly addictive when they are being abused, mainly because they work by depressing the central nervous system (CNS). This leads to reduced functioning of the corresponding physical processes such as an individual’s respiratory rate, which in turn increases the risk of fatal overdose. Due to the extremely addictive nature of opioids, residential or outpatient drug treatment is very often the only route to recovery after abusing them.
When people are prescribed opioids for pain conditions, they often find that they need more of the drug to get the benefits. This is because the body develops a tolerance to a substance when it is regularly consumed. However, because people using prescription opioids may not be aware of the risk of dependence and addiction, they are at higher risk of accidentally overdosing on their medication. It is vital that individuals seek inpatient or outpatient drug treatment as soon as they recognize they have a problem with opioids.
Opiate Overdose Symptoms
When someone takes progressively higher doses of opioids, their body and brain are not always able to cope and they can easily overdose. Taking a dangerous amount of opioids can be life-threatening and it is always important to seek medical attention urgently if an opioid overdose is suspected.
They key opioid overdose symptoms to look out for include the following:
- Contracted or pinpoint pupils
- Slowed breathing or respiratory arrest
- Non-responsiveness or unconsciousness
- Reduced heart rate
- Very pale complexion
- Clammy skin
- Purple or blue-tinged lips or fingernails
If an opioid user is presenting any of the above opioid overdose symptoms it is important to get them medical help as soon as possible. Once a person has overdosed on any substance it is also crucial they get inpatient or outpatient drug treatment as a top priority.
The Risk Factors
People are most at risk of overdosing on opioids when they take medications outside the prescribed guidelines. It is not uncommon for people to feel that opioid drugs are “safe” because they have been prescribed by a physician. This can lead to them abusing these powerfully addictive medications without even realizing. The main factors influencing a person’s risk of opioid overdose include the following:
Tolerance: When someone starts abusing opioids, it is usually because they need higher doses in order to achieve the desired effects. Tolerance is marked by cravings for opioids when the person isn’t using which manifests itself with withdrawal symptoms which become progressively unpleasant.
Relapse: Addiction is a relapsing illness and if an individual has abstained from using for a period of time before returning to opioid abuse, the risk of overdose is considerable. This is mainly because they will have become tolerant to opioids before starting a period of abstinence, making it more likely for them to take more should they return to substance abuse.
Mixing drugs: It is not uncommon for people abusing opioids to be using other substances in combination. The most common is alcohol which also has a depressant effect on the CNS, which can add to the respiratory dangers of any opioids the individual is using as well. There is also an increased risk of developing severe liver toxicity which can be life-threatening.
Method of use: The methods of using opioids that have the most rapid effects also carry the highest risk of overdose, such as injecting or snorting.
Preventing Opioid Overdose
The best way of preventing opioid overdose is by entering an inpatient or outpatient drug rehab program as soon as a problem has been recognized. It is not always easy for a person to know if they have become addicted to a drug, particularly if it is a prescription medication they take in pill form. However, due to the highly dangerous risk levels associated with opioid use and abuse, it is always best to seek professional advice or ask the right questions of the prescribing physician.
Opioids work by changing the way the brain functions to essentially “distract” the person from pain elsewhere in the body. This is achieved by creating pleasurable sensations which are the main attraction for people abusing opioids for recreational purposes. Unraveling the damage done when a person has been abusing opioids is complex and requires specialist inpatient or outpatient drug rehab treatment. Elevate offers an integrated opioid abuse treatment program that includes holistic and evidence-based components.
It is important to recognize that recovering from opioid abuse takes time and every individual should complete inpatient or outpatient drug rehab at their own pace. Thorough assessment and evaluation of every client entering an inpatient or outpatient drug treatment center is important so that a personalized treatment strategy can be established after detox has been completed. Opioid overdose is a very real danger for hundreds and thousands of Americans and it is as important to know the risks as it is that there is help available to prevent it.