Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the opioid crisis was often in the headlines. While it seems to have lost the spotlight, opioid overdoses remain a huge problem.
How many deaths due to opioid overdose would you guess happened last year? The answer from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is about 72,000. This is a 5% increase in America since 2018.
Opioid overdose deaths are higher than from car accidents, guns, or AIDS. The CDC also estimates that opioid abuse costs the U.S. about $78.5 billion each year. This includes healthcare and treatment costs for addiction, lost productivity, and criminal justice.
Keep reading to learn more about opioid addiction, overdose, and the pandemic’s impact.
What Is an Opioid?
Opioids describe a class of drugs that occurs naturally in the opium poppy plant. Many prescription painkillers contain opioids. The street drug, heroin, is also an opioid.
Prescription opioids help relieve pain. They do this by blocking pain signals sent from the body to the brain.
Along with decreasing pain, opioids also make some people feel relaxed or even “high”. This high or happy feeling may lead a person to use more than needed. This may result in an addiction.
Other side effects include constipation, nausea, and drowsiness. Some people even experience slower breathing and confusion.
Some common prescription names for opioids include OxyContin®, codeine, morphine, and hydrocodone. Fentanyl is another opioid that’s about 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It’s often prescribed for cancer patients.
All these drugs may be found in the illegal market as well. Street heroin and fentanyl often contain other dangerous products along with the opioids.
How Is Opioid Abuse Defined?
Opioid abuse means that an individual uses more of the medication than prescribed. It can also refer to situations when someone uses opioids that were prescribed for someone else.
The brain chemistry changes and develops a tolerance for the drug. Tolerance means that the individual needs to use more drugs over to get the same effect. If they stop the drug suddenly, they will have physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms.
Anyone who takes opioids for a prolonged time becomes dependent on the drug. This isn’t the same thing as an addiction.
Addiction describes a strong, compulsive urge to use opioids. This is no longer related to a medical need for the drug. Opioids have a high risk of becoming addictive even if it was originally prescribed.
Those with an opioid addiction may place getting the drug over food or other life necessities. Addiction interferes with relationships, work performance, and health. No one knows why some people are more prone to become addicted than others.
What Is an Opioid Overdose?
Over 1,000 Americans receive emergency department treatment every day for opioid overdoses. Even more concerning, someone dies from an opioid overdose about every 11 minutes.
Often, these overdoses occur by accident at home. A person may be trying to stop their pain and take too much of the medicine.
An overdose causes the brain receptors to block the pain, slow the breathing, and calm the body. When there is too much opioid drug in the blood, it can decrease breathing to a dangerous or deadly level. The most common cause of death is the cessation of breathing.
Signs and symptoms that an opioid overdose emergency is happening includes:
- Extreme sleepiness or not able to wake up
- Very slow or no breathing
- Slowing of the heartbeat and low blood pressure
- Cold and clammy feeling skin
- The pupil (the center black part of the eye) looks very tiny
- A blue color to the lips and nails
If the person doesn’t receive immediate medical treatment, they can die. Remember, this can result from legal prescriptions or illegal opioid use.
How Has COVID-19 Affected the Opioid Overdose Crisis?
During COVID-19, a large part of the U.S. has experienced quarantine. Many workers have also begun working from home or lost their jobs. Many businesses and healthcare facilities have limited access.
In general, the nation’s stress level has risen dramatically. Isolation and stress are two strong contributors to addiction. Many individuals may have trouble contacting their doctor or getting prescriptions refilled.
The majority of states are reporting increases in opioid-related deaths since the pandemic. They’ve also seen more problems with mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse.
Increased use of alcohol and drugs only adds to family and community problems. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported an increase in substance abuse after 9/11.
Our nation is facing an even more wide-spread and longer state of fear and stress today. More individuals have directly felt the impact of this crisis than at any other time in their life.
In response, the American Medical Association (AMA) has taken action to address this issue. They are asking governors and state legislators to follow the new guidance. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) released new rules.
The DEA and SAMHSA guidance encourage flexibility in evaluating and prescribing opioids. They also support the use of telemedicine.
They recommend reducing barriers for those who need medication. These barriers may include insurance prior authorization and step therapy. They support meaningful treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders.
Other changes involve making sterile needles and syringes available to decrease infection risk. The AMA also encourages reduced restrictions on opioid dosing, quantity, and refills.
Do You Need Help With Addiction?
If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, it’s time to get help. This article gave an overview of opioid abuse and opioid overdose. Experts know that pandemic-related stress is making the struggle with addiction harder.
Cenikor provides quality substance abuse and behavioral health services. We value health, wellness, faith, work, recovery, respect, education, and accountability. Our goal is to rebuild relationships and families through affordable services.
Contact us today if you or a family member needs help with an addiction.