In 2021, there were more than 106,000 deaths in the United States from drug-involved overdose, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids. Opioids are a class of prescription drugs used to treat moderate to severe acute and chronic pain. They relieve pain by attaching to receptors and inhibiting pain signals. As a side effect of their pain-relieving abilities, they relax your body and can make you feel “high.” This is what makes opioids so addictive and is the reason they are commonly abused.
Opioids bind to receptors in the brain. When these opioids attach to the receptors, they block pain signals and release large amounts of dopamine — a chemical in the brain that plays a large part in feelings of pleasure. Anytime you engage in an activity that you enjoy, such as eating your favorite food, dopamine is released. This makes you want to repeat the activity to achieve the same feeling. The same thing happens with prescription opioids. The release of dopamine makes you want to repeat the experience, and it becomes a vicious cycle leading to addiction.
Statistically, opioids are one of the most abused classes of prescription drugs. While these drugs are legal, the risks of misusing opioids and other prescription drugs are real. Drug overdose deaths involving any opioid―prescription opioids (including natural and semi-synthetic opioids and methadone), other synthetic opioids other than methadone (primarily fentanyl), and heroin―continued to rise through 2021 with 80,411 deaths in the United States. More than 70% of these deaths occurred among males.
If you or someone you love is stuck in a vicious cycle of addiction with opioids or prescription drugs, seek life-saving treatment now from professionals who care.
There are two types of fentanyl: pharmaceutical fentanyl and illicitly manufactured fentanyl. Both are synthetic opioids. Recently, most fentanyl-related overdoses are connected to highly addictive, illicitly manufactured fentanyl sold through illegal drug markets, causing overdose and death in the United States.
Fentanyl is 50 to 300 times more potent than morphine, making 2 milligrams of fentanyl a deadly dosage. While its pharmaceutical intention is to treat severe cancer pain following surgery and in advanced-stage cancers, its illegal use is growing swiftly and leading to rapid respiratory depression and damage of the internal organs, often resulting in death.
Statistics indicate that fentanyl is currently the greatest drug threat in this country. Rates of overdose deaths involving fentanyl have increased drastically over the last few years:
- Among teenagers, overdose deaths increased 94% from 2019 to 2020.
- Fentanyl overdose rates are rising 5 times faster than heroin overdoses.
- Fentanyl is a factor in 53% of overdose deaths nationwide.
- In 2020 alone, there were 42,700 fentanyl overdose deaths.
Fentanyl is often mixed with drugs such as heroin, methamphetamines, cocaine and marijuana as a combination product, and more often than not, fentanyl is added without the drug user’s knowledge. It can also be present in fake prescription pills that look the same as prescription pills sold in a pharmacy. Those seeking to buy Percocet or Xanax from dealers through social media platforms are often given fentanyl instead or in combination with the drug purchased.
The DEA Laboratory has found that, of the fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills analyzed in 2022, 6 in 10 contain a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl. Hence why the DEA has created the “One Pill Can Kill” campaign. Even just a small dose of fentanyl, such as the amount on the tip of a pencil, can be deadly. Fentanyl overdose and addiction is a threat to all substance users, whether fentanyl is your drug of choice or not.
Heroin is unlike any other addictive substance. Dependency — and withdrawal symptoms — begin almost immediately after the first hit. Once heroin hooks you, the cravings never stop; they only intensify.
Heroin, which is a type of opioid, has experienced a resurgence over the last decade, exacerbated by the worsening opioid crisis. In fact, 80% of all heroin users begin their addiction through prescription painkillers before transitioning to cheaper, illegal alternatives.
It’s important to always have hope. If you or one of your loved ones is struggling with heroin addiction, know that the treatment options offered here at ARC can help you recover from your addiction.
Drugs may contain deadly levels of fentanyl that you wouldn’t be able to see, taste or smell. Fentanyl test strips are the only way to tell if your drugs have been laced with fentanyl. These strips are inexpensive and typically give results within five minutes. Even in the result of a negative test, take caution, as some test strips do not detect more potent fentanyl-like drugs such as carfentanil.
If you aren’t sure if someone is overdosing, treat it as if they are. Their life is at stake. Call 911 immediately and administer naloxone, a life-saving medication that can reverse overdose from opioids, if it is available. Try to keep the person awake and breathing, while laying them on their side to prevent choking. Stay with them until emergency assistance arrives.
The exact signs of substance abuse vary depending on the specific drug. The most common signs of opioid and prescription drug addiction include:
- Slowed breathing
- Poor coordination
- Reduced appetite
- Increased tolerance – needing to take more to feel the same effects
- Stealing medications or stealing money to buy medication
- Asking for prescriptions from more than one doctor
- Taking higher doses than prescribed
- Requesting early refills
Abuse and/or overdose of opioids and prescription drugs can lead to life-threatening medical conditions and even death. The best strategy to take if you or someone you know is hooked on these drugs is to seek out medical detox and addiction treatment.
Opioid addiction is a highly serious matter as it can ruin your career, strain your relationships with others and have devasting effects on your physical, emotional and mental health. Our team of professionals at Authentic Recovery Center — many who are in recovery themselves — take an evidence-based approach to helping you overcome your addiction. Providing medically supervised detox, trauma-informed care, 12-step and alternative treatment support groups, individualized therapy and many other key resources, we can help you take back control of your life.