Opioids & the Opioid Epidemic

About Opioids

Opioids are a class of drugs that include:

  • Fentanyl
  • Heroin
  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone
  • OxyContin
  • Percocets
  • Other prescription painkillers

Prescription opioids are used to treat pain from an accident, injury or for long-term pain management for things such as cancer. Opioids are safe when taken as prescribed for medical reasons, but are extremely dangerous when misused and abused as they have highly addictive characteristics.

The use of prescription opioids is often the precursor to heroin use. Once a person escalates to the use of heroin, they are at an increased risk for overdose for a number of reasons including the mixing of heroin with a more powerful opioid called fentanyl and now an elephant tranquilizer carfentanil that is now being mixed, often times at no knowledge to the user, with heroin. For more information on opioids, visit the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Some Facts

  • 50% of adults start using before age 15
  • 50% of the risk of addiction is genetically mediated
  • 90% of adults with dependence start using before age 18
  • Early detection and intervention is likely to shorten the impact and course
  • The reasons people start and stop using drugs are often the same: to feel good, to feel better, to do better and because others are doing it.

Opioid Epidemic

The Opioid epidemic has its roots in the availability of the highly concentrated prescription painkiller, Oxycontin, made available in the United States in 1996. This pharmaceutical drug has chemical properties similar to heroin, and like heroin, physical dependence can develop quickly.

Opioid users often report the onset of their opioid addiction with Oxycontin use. On the streets, OxyContin sold for $1 per milligram (mg). (80 mg is $80). Over time, as tolerance increased, so did the need for more pills, and crushing/snorting was often used to enhance the effects. The high cost led many to thievery, and cheaper alternatives such as Vicodin, Percocet and Heroin (snortable and 80 to 90% pure).

Currently, there is an opioid epidemic across the country. Young people and those predisposed to addiction are highly susceptible. Many begin experimenting with painkillers between the ages of 17 to 26 and many will become addicted as a result of legitimate medical use.

Signs & Symptoms of Opioid Abuse

Prescription Drug Use

  • Convulsions
  • Headaches
  • Irregular heartbeat and breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of interest
  • Missing medicine
  • Mood changes
  • Sleepiness

Signs of Heroin Use

  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Flushed or itchy skin
  • Slurred speech
  • Staggering walk
  • Unusual happiness (euphoria)
  • Watery or constricted pupils