Explaining opioids

For many years, law enforcement agencies have tried to educate and inform the general public about a growing opioid epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoes killed nearly 64,000 Americans in 2016, and roughly two-thirds of those deaths involved a prescription or illicit opioid.
The opioid epidemic is not exclusive to the United States. In early 2018, Canada’s Special Advisory Committee on the Epidemic of Opioid Overdoses released a statement acknowledging that the country’s opioid epidemic had significantly worsened since 2016. In fact, the Public Health Agency of Canada noted that deaths from opioid-related overdoses between January and September of 2017 had increased by 45 percent from the same period just a year earlier.
What are opioids?
The term “opioid” refers to a wide range of drugs, including illegal drugs such as heroin. Whether an opioid is an illegal street drug or one prescribed by a doctor, the National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that all of these drugs are chemically related. Each opioid interacts with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain. Prescription opioids are often prescribed to relieve pain.
Why are opioids so often misused?
According to the NIDA, opioids are effective at reducing pain. But while they are prescribed to treat pain, opioids also produce a feeling of euphoria. Opioid users, whether they’re using heroin or a prescription opioid such as Vicodin, can easily become dependent on opioids because of that euphoric feeling they get when taking them. When this happens, users are likely to misuse opioids, taking them in larger quantities than prescribed or looking to illegal opioids such as heroin in search of that euphoric feeling.
What are some types of opioids?
The CDC notes that there are three common types of opioids: prescription opioids, fentanyl and heroin.
• Prescription opioids: These are prescribed by doctors to treat moderate to severe pain. Some common types of prescription opioids are Vicodin (hydrocodone), OxyContin (oxycodone), morphine, and methadone.
• Fentanyl: This is a synthetic opioid that the CDC notes is considerably more powerful than other opioids. Fentanyl is typically only prescribed to help patients dealing with severe pain, such as that caused by advanced cancers. However, illegally manufactured and distributed fentanyl is at the heart of the opioid epidemic. In fact, the CDC reports that death rates from overdoses involving synthetic opioids such as fentanyl doubled in 10 states from 2015 to 2016.
• Heroin: Unlike fentanyl and prescription opioids, heroin is illegal. Despite that, heroin usage has risen sharply in recent years across nearly all demographics in the United States.
Opioids pose a significant health problem throughout much of North America. More information is available at www.drugabuse.gov.

Author: Stephan Drew

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