Opiates and opioids are two types of drugs used to relieve acute pain. Both fall under the same class because they affect the same opioid receptors throughout the body. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between the two medications.
Opiates are drugs made directly from naturally-occurring opium extracted from poppy plants, such as opium and morphine. Pure heroin is another example of an opiate. Opioids are synthetic versions of opiates that model a similar chemical structure but are made in a lab. These include drugs such as fentanyl, hydrocodone, oxycodone.
Regardless of the difference in chemical structure, both opiates and opioids carry a high potential for abuse. Rates of opioid use, abuse, and overdose skyrocketed during the past decade. There is a severe opioid problem in the United States that shows little sign of declining soon.
The need for prescription opioid rehab programs has never been higher. Thankfully, prescription opioid rehab programs are available to help those trying to quit using drugs. Continue reading to gain a deeper understanding of what makes these drugs so addictive and how addiction treatment can help.
What Are Prescription Opioids?
Both opiates and opioids are prescription medications made to treat severe pain. They’re usually prescribed after accidents or medical procedures, or for patients suffering from chronic pain. In most cases, opioids are intended for short-term use until the pain subsides and the patient can switch to a non-narcotic alternative.
Opiate use is not a new phenomenon. Various cultures have used them for centuries, both medicinally and recreationally. They have helpful and healing properties not only for relieving pain, but for treating coughs, relieving bowel issues, and inducing sleep as well.
The problem with opiates and opioids is their incredible potential for abuse. Both drugs cause significant physical dependence, even when taken as prescribed. Their pain-relieving properties quickly become necessary to keep pain at a manageable level.
Bigger problems arise when people misuse these drugs. Taking greater amounts of opioids causes a rush of artificial dopamine and endorphins. This creates an intense, euphoric high that can’t be replicated naturally. The only way to experience that rush is by taking more opioids.
Those who chase this physical and psychological relief soon find themselves in a cycle of misuse. They may be able to pull themselves from it on their own but once opioid addiction sets in, the problem becomes difficult to overcome alone.
The Prescription Opioid Crisis in the United States
Prescription opioid abuse is a serious problem throughout the United States. Rates of use, abuse, addiction, and overdose have skyrocketed since 2010. A growing interest in these medications, along with their increasing availability, have accelerated the crisis as more and more people turn to opioids for relief each year.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 9.9 million people ages 12 and older, or 3.6 percent of the population, misused prescription opioids in 2018. This alarming number of people, although slightly lower than previous years, only hints at the extent of the impact of these drugs.
Dangers of misuse and dependence are one thing; opioid use disorder, or the compulsive use of prescription opioids, is an even bigger issue. 2 million people struggled with a prescription opioid use disorder in the same year. These individuals are at a higher risk for the long-term impacts of opioid use.
The greatest danger of prescription opioid misuse, abuse, and addiction is the possibility of a fatal overdose. Taking too many opioids can slow breathing to the point of respiratory distress and possible death. And opioids claim the lives of thousands every year.
According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a total of 46,802 people died of an opiate or opioid overdose in 2018. These drugs claimed the lives of an average of 128 people every single day of the year. The impact these drugs have on the population and the resulting need for prescription opioid rehab is undeniable.
However, opioids also provide a psychological effect for many people, causing feelings of euphoria and happiness. In cases where prescription or illegal opioids are being abused, it’s because someone is seeking this high.
Types of Prescription Opioids
There are a wide variety of prescription opioids available. These drugs are legal when prescribed and used for their intended medical purposes. Examples of prescription opioids and opiates include:
- Meperidine (Demerol)
- Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
- Hydrocodone (Norco, Vicodin)
- Oxycodone (OxyContin, Roxicet, Percocet, Percodan)
Though these drugs are legal, they are also controlled substances under the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Controlled Substances Act. They are approved for medical use but their high potential for abuse categorizes them as Schedule II substances.
Why Are Prescription Opioids So Addictive?
There are numerous reasons prescription opioids are so addictive. The majority of users don’t set out to develop a dependence or addiction. Many times people receive a legitimate prescription for an injury or after a medical procedure and start out using the medication as prescribed.
As these medications interact with opioid receptors over time, they change brain and body chemistry and function. Their system becomes used to the regular flow of pain medication and alters their baseline perception of pain as time goes on.
Physical dependency means the brain and body now expect and rely upon the presence of the drug to function. Then once the drug is taken away, it thinks something is wrong. It reacts with physical and psychological responses, called withdrawal symptoms. They range from mild to moderate to severe and make it difficult to stop using these drugs.
This applies to people who use the medication exactly as prescribed and worsens for those who misuse it. Some people may take an extra pill or two, or continue using their medication after the time comes to stop. Once their prescription runs out, they may turn to illegal methods to find an ongoing supply.
The physical and psychological relief, along with the euphoria of misuse, make prescription opioids and opiates incredibly addictive drugs. Some people continue past the point of legal use to continue chasing the high, either by finding more prescription medication illegally or turning to alternatives like heroin or synthetic fentanyl.
Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Opioid Abuse
Some people can hide their prescription opioid abuse for months or years. It doesn’t have as many overt signs as heavy alcohol use, such as a distinct smell or leftover cans and bottles. As the abuse continues, though, it becomes increasingly noticeable. There are many common signs of opioid addiction to look for if you’re concerned someone you love is using:
- Extreme drowsiness
- “Nodding out,” or shifting between states of consciousness and half-sleep
- Sudden changes in weight, either weight gain or weight loss
- Frequent and unexplained flu-like symptoms
- Lack of attention to personal hygiene
- Decreased libido
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Isolation from friends and family members
- Changes in activity level or interest in hobbies
- Unexplained financial difficulties
- Stealing from friends, family members, or other avenues
Specific signs of opioid abuse and addiction depend on each individual and their particular situation. Not everyone will show the same signs. These give you an idea of what to look for if you’re worried someone you love may need prescription opioid rehab, though.
If you’re concerned they might need help, first try approaching them and expressing your worries with compassion and care. You can also reach out for help with an intervention if it isn’t possible to have a reasonable conversation.
Prescription Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms
Prescription opioid withdrawal symptoms are part of what keeps people trapped in the cycle of addiction for so long. These painful and often excruciating symptoms are quickly relieved with another dose of drugs. Rather than face the difficulties of withdrawal symptoms, people stay stuck in their use. Common opioid withdrawal symptoms include:
- Muscle or joint aches and pains
- Anxiety or mood swings
- Watery or irritated eyes
- Tremors or shaking
- Problems sleeping
- Vomiting or nausea
- Elevated heart rate
The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on factors such as the types of drugs used, the amount of drugs used, and whether they were mixed with other substances. An individual’s age and overall health condition also play a role.
Sometimes opioid withdrawal symptoms can cause severe effects like seizures, leading to the need for a medically monitored detox. Prescription opioid rehab programs provide these services to start the process then transition the individual into follow-up treatment to continue keeping them off of the drugs.
Types of Prescription Opioid Rehab
There is no single formula for prescription opioid rehab. Effective addiction treatment considers the specific needs of each individual. Everyone has a different set of conditions that leads to slightly different results, meaning what works for one person might not work for another.
There are multiple options for prescription opioid rehab that involve varying levels of care. Detox, inpatient, partial hospitalization programs, and intensive outpatient programs work together to provide a comprehensive approach to build a foundation of recovery. What role does each level of treatment play in the recovery process?
Medically Supervised Detox
Medically supervised detox is arguably most necessary for individuals quitting prescription opioids and opiates. These drugs cause some of the most severe withdrawal symptoms that often require medical attention. Medically supervised detox is intended specifically to help individuals coming off of drugs.
Detox is usually the first step in prescription opioid rehab. Individuals must safely separate from substances before treatment can begin. A typical stay in detox lasts between 5 and 10 days depending on the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
Prescription Opioid Rehab
Once detox is complete, newly-sober individuals transition into some form of prescription opioid rehab. There are two main options for follow-up programs: inpatient treatment and partial hospitalization programs.
Inpatient treatment offers programming during the day then requires patients to stay in the facility overnight. They provide residential accommodations as well as outings and other activities to keep patients engaged and occupied.
Partial hospitalization programs, or PHPs for short, are similar to inpatient treatment but don’t require patients to live at the facility. PHP offers more flexibility, allowing patients to reside at home and commute for treatment, or an offsite sober living.
Both inpatient treatment and PHP provide extensive and well-rounded addiction treatment programs. Patients usually attend treatment Monday through Friday for 6 to 8 hours per day. Programs consist of both individual and group therapy, as well as alternative therapeutic approaches and educational components.
Active addiction becomes a way of life for the majority of people with substance use disorders. Their lives center around either acquiring or using drugs and everything else falls to the side. During prescription opioid rehab, individuals learn how to reengage with the world around them and live a drug-free life.
This not only includes developing coping skills and relapse prevention methods to avoid turning back to drugs, but learning important life skills to become an active member of society. Many facilities provide help with going back to school or finding a job, either during prescription opioid rehab or as part of an intensive outpatient aftercare program.
Intensive Outpatient Opioid Rehab
Intensive outpatient programs, or IOPs, are a follow-up to full-time prescription opioid rehab programs. They help individuals transition from higher levels of care back into everyday life. IOP usually offers program 3 days per week, allowing for adequate time outside of treatment hours to attend to real-world responsibilities.
Patients typically start returning to work or school during this time and IOP provides a supportive stepping stone for them to do so. They still attend individual and group therapy sessions to check in and stay connected with their recovery community as they start integrating into life again.
The best part of intensive outpatient prescription opioid rehab is its wide range of flexibility. Some may require more support as they get back to life while others only need a few groups per week. Patients work with a case manager to determine a plan that takes their individual needs into account and provides adequate levels of support during the transition.