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The opioid epidemic has cast a shadow over America for nearly three decades. Tragic headlines recount the devastating effects of opioid abuse and addiction, a crisis that has claimed countless lives. While recent years have seen a surge in overdose deaths due to easy access to opiates, the dark history of these potent painkillers dates back to the early days of American colonization with the arrival of the Mayflower in the 1620s.
The Opioid Crisis in America: A Long-Standing Issue
Opiate use and addiction have deep roots in American history. Even the Pilgrims brought with them a substance known as laudanum, derived from opium poppies, revealing that opiates have been part of medical care for centuries. By the 19th century, many opiates were classified as controlled substances, yet they continued to be used both medically and recreationally. The ’60s and ’70s saw a resurgence of opiate addiction, driven by the emergence of synthetic opioids and illegal heroin importation from Asia.
Recent years have seen opiate addiction officially labeled as an “epidemic.” An estimated 30 million people worldwide abuse opiates, with approximately 2.1 million addicts in the United States. This surge in use has led to a fourfold increase in overdose deaths since 1999. The epidemic affects various segments of the population, particularly adolescents and men, with young people often receiving opioid prescriptions at an alarming rate. Men, in particular, are more frequently prescribed higher doses and use them for longer periods, contributing to the 48,000 male deaths from prescription pain reliever overdoses in the last decade.
Recognizing Opiate Addiction
Opiate addiction is often easily detectable due to its visible physical symptoms and altered behavior. Physical signs include:
- Elation and euphoria
- Extreme sedation and drowsiness
- Constricted pupils
- Slow breathing
- Nodding off at inappropriate times
As addiction progresses, individuals may engage in various behaviors to sustain their habit, such as “doctor shopping,” mood swings, and accumulating drug-related paraphernalia. Isolation, strained relationships, financial troubles, and a propensity for theft or financial requests are also common.
The Cost of Opiate Addiction
The financial cost of opiate addiction extends beyond the price of the drugs themselves. Many start their opiate journey with prescriptions, which are relatively affordable, especially when covered by insurance. However, once addiction surpasses medical supervision, street prices skyrocket, often increasing by ten to thirteen times. Prescription opioids, which may cost $40-100 per bottle, become unaffordable. This financial pressure often leads addicts to switch to the cheaper but riskier alternative of heroin, which costs around $20 per dose.
The Impact of Opiates on the Addict
Opiates are potent drugs intended exclusively for medical use and should never be taken outside professional guidance. These substances induce profound calmness, euphoria, pain insensitivity, drowsiness, and slowed breathing.
Opiates also affect the brain, preventing the release of the pleasure-inducing chemical, GABA, which controls dopamine flow. This altered brain chemistry can lead to mood disorders and depression, especially after prolonged addiction.
The longer individuals abuse opiates, the greater the risk of severe side effects, including muscle spasms, cardiovascular problems, and death. Opiates are the leading cause of overdose deaths in the United States.
Recovery and Relapse
Overcoming opiate addiction is a formidable challenge, with over 90% of individuals experiencing at least one relapse during recovery. The damaged mesolimbic system of the brain, responsible for pleasure and reward, complicates recovery, as addicts often require the drug to experience any form of pleasure. Although long-term recovery is possible, it is a demanding journey that often requires a period of abstinence and isolation from the drug. Therapeutic sessions, 12-step programs, and religious programs can also play essential roles in preventing relapse.
Detoxing from Opiates
Opiate withdrawal is a well-documented ordeal, characterized by symptoms that vary based on the duration and quantity of use. Symptoms range from agitation, anxiety, and muscle aches to insomnia, sweating, and exhaustion. Severe withdrawal can include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
Withdrawal from opiates is not inherently medically dangerous, but intense cravings often lead to withdrawal attempts at home, which may undermine the recovery process. Medical settings offer the advantage of opiate detox drugs like methadone and suboxone, which can alleviate withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
Challenges in Opiate Recovery
Recovery from opiates is a long and demanding journey. After detox, individuals require substantial support, as cravings can be overwhelming. Tapering protocols, which involve gradually reducing opiate doses, are used to manage cravings and reduce the risk of relapse.
Proven Help for Addiction or Alcoholism
Tallahassee Men’s Rehab, part of Teen Challenge, is here to help through faith-based residential programs and licensed counseling services. Tallahassee Men’s Rehab puts hope within reach of those who need it most. Men of all ages and backgrounds are finding freedom from addiction and other life-controlling issues, restoring relationships with their families, and creating new, hope-filled futures for themselves and their loved ones.
With treatment plans unique to each person, our programs work closely with counselors and support staff to address their past hurts, overcome present issues, and prepare for successful futures.