Fast Facts: Opioid Abuse in Numbers
- In 2012, 259 million prescriptions for opioids were provided, which is more than enough to give each American adult their bottle of pills
- 2017, 1.7 million people in the United States suffered from opioid abuse
- In the same year, 652,000 people were reported to suffer from heroin use disorder
- Close to 30% of people who are prescribed opioids for valid health reasons abuse the medication
- Up to 12% of those prescribed opioids develop a substance use disorder
- Up to 6% of those who use opioids will transition to heroin use
- 80% of heroin users report having used opioids first
What Happens When You Use Opioids?
Opiates are a class of drugs that are usually prescribed to treat pain or as anesthetics. These include medications like:
Many of these medications are synthesized from the extracts of the opium poppy plant. Opium derived directly from the plant has some benefits but isn’t typically abused in the United States. However, the illegal drug trade has found a way to use opium’s effects. Synthesized from the opium poppy plant extracts, heroin is an illegal Schedule I drug. This means that it doesn’t have medical benefits and poses a significant tendency for abuse. It appears like a brown or white powder or a black tar-like substance. As the government attempts to put a lid on prescription opiates, heroin is fast becoming a cheap alternative for those who have developed an addiction. During use, the illicit drug induces feelings of relaxation, sedation, and cognitive clouding, cycling its user between states of wakefulness and unconsciousness. Although there are a variety of opiate medications, many of these drugs work to produce the same effects. Some of the short-term effects of opioids may include:
- Decreased respiration
- Pain relief
The feeling of calm and numbness that results from the use of opioids may give a person a sense of a ‘rush.’ This initial high can be described as pleasant, while the subsequent crash might make a person feel sick and unwell. This stark contrast between the feelings of being on opioids and off of them ultimately drives individuals to keep taking the drug. In the long run, opioids can cause some if not all of the following long-term effects:
- Cold flashes
- Increased tolerance
Note that this is not an all-inclusive list and that some people might react differently to the long-term use of opioids. What’s common, however, is an increased tolerance for the substance. With frequent use of opioids, the body becomes accustomed to the presence of the drug. So much so that it becomes difficult to function without a dose. While the high might make a person feel relieved and comfortable, the absence of the drug is the exact opposite, fueling the urge to restore the pleasant experience with another dose.
But as with most addictive substances, opioids become less effective over time. As your body adjusts to your usual intake, the feelings of relief are no longer as pronounced. This forces many abusers to heighten their dose to chase the potency of those first few doses. With time, constant increases may lead to an overdose. Most who abuse opioids will be so fixated on securing their next dose that they fail to fulfill many of their everyday responsibilities and work. Though fueled by their need for a fix, many will even delve into illegal activities like theft and fraud to guarantee their next dose.