Opioids consist of several medications used to treat acute and chronic pain. The first opioid, morphine, was developed in 1803.

Ever since then, many other forms of opioids joined the market in primarily two forms:

  • Opioids specific for pain relief
  • Opioids mixed with other medications (e.g., antitussive drugs)

Depending on the type of opioid you’re taking, the effects and duration of action will vary. In general, you can find these drugs as tablets and capsules. However, injectable forms are also available, which may require the help of a healthcare professional.

Unfortunately, and despite the benefits of these drugs in relieving severe pain, the rates of addiction are extremely high. Florida, for instance, is in the midst of an opioid crisis, with nearly 3,189 victims of opioid overdose deaths in 2018. This number comprises 68% of total overdose-related deaths in the state. Since 2000, the number of opioid-related deaths increased by more than 6 times.

In this article, we will briefly discuss the uses of opioids, as well as the opiate epidemic in Florida.

What are common prescription opioids?

The most commonly prescribed types of opioids are:

  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin®) oxycodone (oxycontin®, Percocet®)
  • Morphine (Kadian®, Avinza®)
  • Oxymorphone (Opana®)
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl

Each of these drugs has specific indications and contraindications, but they all lead to the same pharmacological effect, which is to relieve severe pain.In addition to these drugs, we have synthetic forms used for recreational purposes, such as opium and heroin.

What is the purpose of prescribing opioids?

Generally speaking, everyone experiences pain, especially after a physical injury. Pain is a natural response crucial for the human brain to prevent severe injuries and signal you to move away from the damaging factor. Fortunately, the pain subsides after a while without the need for medical interventions.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have chronic pain characterized by the continuous signaling of the brain even after the healing of the injury. Chronic pain limits your mobility, flexibility, and severely impact the quality of life. According to experts, chronic pain is any painful sensation that lasts for more than 12 weeks. The pain can be sharp or dull, leading to a burning or aching sensation in the affected areas. It can also be steady or intermittent.

Common types of chronic pain include:

  • Headache
  • Post-trauma pain
  • Cancer pain
  • Arthritis pain
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Lower back pain
  • Psychogenic pain (i.e., not induced by any organic etiology)

According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, chronic pain affects more than 1.5 billion people worldwide. Moreover, it’s the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States, with more than 100 million affected Americans. Unfortunately, the misuse and random prescription of opioids have led to an addiction problem that has affected millions of people in the United States. Like many states, Florida seems to be hit hard at this time, which raises many warning flags.

Florida and opioid addiction – how do opioids affect the brain?

The primary action of opioids is to bind to special receptors known as the opioid receptors, which are abundantly found in the brain, spinal cord, and some organs. When this connection takes place, the opioid substance will block all pain signals from reaching the brain and stimulate the release of dopamine in the body. In summary, opioids block pain signals from going to the brain and also promote the release of dopamine, which has analgesic (i.e., pain-relieving) properties.

Opioid addiction in Florida

Addiction is defined as the psychological and physical inability to stop consuming a drug, product, habit, or activity. The main driver of this condition is the pleasure center of the brain, which is also known as the nucleus accumbens. Once this group of nerve cells experiences the powerful shot of dopamine induced by opioids, it will stimulate your central nervous system to consume more of the drug.

Over time, this stimulation becomes insufficient for the brain to get the same “euphoria” it got the first time, which can only be compensated by increasing the dosage.

Tolerance Vs. Dependence Vs. Addiction

Long-term use of opioids can cause some people to develop what’s known as tolerance. This concept is a cornerstone in the field of pharmacology as it refers to the need for higher and more frequent doses to obtain the same clinical effect.

Drug dependence, on the other hand, occurs with repeated use by making the neurons dependent on the drug’s presence in order to function normally. In some cases, patients with chronic pain who take opioid medications frequently may require medical support to stop taking the drug.

The last step of drug adaptation is an addiction, which is a chronic disease characterized by:

  • Compulsive behavior
  • Use of drug despite apparent consequences
  • Social isolation

Can the use of opioids lead to addiction?

The answer is to this question not as straightforward as you may think. However, repeated misuse of opioids can lead to substance use disorder (SUD), which is a medical condition that gradually complicates until it reaches addiction.

When you stop taking opioids suddenly, you may experience the following side effects:

  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Sleep problems
  • Cold flashes with goosebumps
  • Uncontrollable leg movements
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Severe cravings

Other side effects of opioids

Similar to any other pharmacological drugs, opioids do carry some harmful side effects, which manifest after long use of the drugs.

These side effects may include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Euphoria (pathological)
  • Slowed breathing
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Constipation

By far, the most feared side effect is the slowed breathing that can lead to poor oxygenation of peripheral tissues (i.e., hypoxia).

If you experience any of these side effects, be sure to contact your primary care physician for further evaluation.

Takeaway message

The opiate epidemic wreaked havoc on several areas inside the United States, including the state of Florida. Hopefully, and with the cooperation of government institutions and nonprofit organizations, we will control the spread of this crisis in the upcoming years. If you have a personal story that you want to share about opioids and their use, please don’t hesitate to do so in the comment section below.

Learn more about the services we offer by checking this link HERE.

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