A growing number of Americans are getting addicted to prescription opioids. In 2014 alone, almost 2 million Americans had a prescription opioid addiction. This number continues to grow every year. In fact, opioid overdoses are becoming a leading cause of death.
Many patients are given prescription opioids to treat moderate to severe pain. Misuse of these medications is common, and can lead to addictions. Patients who misuse these drugs are likely to move on to illicit, street drugs.
In fact, 75% of heroin users actually started off with using prescription opioids. They graduated from prescription opioids to illicit drugs when they couldn’t:
- Get their hands on prescription opioids any longer
- Afford the rising cost of prescription opioids
The most popular illicit opioid is heroin although opium is a common option as well.
Opioid Assisted Treatment, also known as Opioid Replacement Therapy (ORT), is often used to treat an opioid use disorder. This includes both prescription medications and illicit drugs. Since both types of drugs work in a similar fashion, they can be treated in the same way.
Since opioids have different effects on men and women, research has looked at whether men and women respond differently to the treatments as well.
Clinical Uses of Prescription Opioids
Prescription opioids are used to treat moderate to severe pain, as well as many other conditions. The most common clinical uses for prescription opioids are for pain relief. It is used to provide pain relief from:
- Degenerative conditions
- Lower back pain
Prescription opioids can also be used as an anaesthetic or used to treat Irritable Bowel Syndome (IBS). Some prescription opioids can also be used to treat opioid addictions and severe anxiety. It’s amazingly effective in treating many conditions.
Different Types of Prescription Opioids
There are two different types of prescription opioids: extended-release and immediate-release.
Extended-release opioids have a longer duration of action. They also take longer to work. Immediate-release opioids have a shorter duration of action, and work much faster.
Both types of opioids come in different forms. They can be injected or taken as capsules. The most common major opioids that are prescribed include:
Each of these prescription opioids works in a similar fashion to block pain. They work by stimulating the brain and causing an influx of dopamine to the brain. This fools the brain, and causes it to feel euphoric sensations.
Gender Differences in Opioid Use and Abuse
Research shows that men and women react in a different way to pain and to opioid use.
Women tend to be more sensitive to pain than men, and are more likely to struggle with chronic pain. The difference in pain sensitivities is due to factors like:
- Cortical processing of pain
- Sexual hormone
Since women are more sensitive to pain, more opioid prescriptions are written for women than men. Studies have also found that doctors are more likely to prescribe higher doses to women.
The same studies also suggest than women are more likely to abuse and misuse opioids. This is because the opioid receptors in both men and women react to opioids in a different manner.
Women experience a slower onset and offset to opioids. They are less sensitive to the effects of opioids. As a result, women need a larger dose of opioids to get the same effects as men.
The therapeutic window for opioids is also smaller in women. This could be due to their smaller body mass, and differences in their metabolism. In comparison to men, women are more likely to experience withdrawals and dependency.
Are Opioids Addictive?
While prescription opioids are effective in treating pain, they are also quite addictive. Both synthetic opioids and semi-synthetic opioids are addictive.
The high addictive potential boils down to one major reason: tolerance. As addicts use opioids, their body builds a tolerance to the drug.
This means that the body no longer feels the same euphoric effect. A larger dose is needed to get the same euphoric effect and to block pain. As a result, addicts will begin to increase their dosage more and more. They’ll also need to take the drugs more and more frequently.
As addicts consume more opioids, their body gets more and more hooked. They will soon find themselves addicted to the substance. The chemistry levels in their body changes.
Without any opioids in their system, addicts feel depressed and down. They may even experience flu-like withdrawal symptoms. This causes them to crave the drug.
Opioid addiction is not only a physical sensation, but a psychological one as well. Not only does the body crave the drugs, but so does the mind.
Signs of an Opioid Addiction
Although it’s easy to get addicted to opioids, many addicts can hide their addiction. They can even be high functioning and hold a job and a personal life. Some common signs of an opioid addiction include:
- An inability to find joy in recreational activities
- Exhaustion and lethargy on a regular basis
- Increased restlessness and agitation throughout the day
- Lack of interest in keeping up with responsibilities
- Memory loss and other problems related to one’s memory
- Quick decline in work or school performance
- Social isolation from family and friends
Addicts are also likely to misuse prescription opioids. They may even forge prescriptions and go “doctor shopping” to get more drugs. Some addicts will even resort to stealing prescription opioids from family and friends.
If you notice signs of addiction in yourself or in a friend, seek help immediately. This is the best way to prevent the addiction from further spiraling out of control. You can even take an addiction quiz to see where you stand. This self-assessment will give you a better idea of whether you need help.
Professional help from a recovery center can help you get sober. It can be difficult to achieve sobriety alone. Intense withdrawal symptoms can lead to relapses. In some cases, withdrawal symptoms can even become deadly.
What Is Opioid Assisted Treatment (ORT)?
Opioid Assisted Treatment or Opioid Replacement Therapy (ORT) involves weaker opioids. The weaker opioids substitute the stronger drugs.
ORT reduces the intensity of drug withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings. They help make the entire experience a lot more tolerable. As a result, patients are less likely to relapse. An opioid substitute also reduces the chances of experiencing life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. This type of treatment is only prescribed under medical supervision.
The opioids chosen have a longer effect on the body and offer a weaker high. The most common medications used in America include:
- Buprenorphine (Subutex)
- Naltrexone (Vivitrol)
- Suboxone (Buprenorphine and Naloxone)
40% to 65% of patients who seek ORT are less likely to use other opioids. On top of that, 70% to 95% of patients can reduce their opioid use significantly.
This type of treatment is one of the most effective options available. It can be used to treat both prescription opioid addictions and illicit drug addictions. It is just as effective on drugs like oxycodone as it is on heroin.
The type of opioid that will be used as a substitute in ORT will vary. It will depend on each patient’s addiction profile. Also, the length of time will vary as well. Many addicts opt for ORT tapering as soon as possible to wean themselves off all opioids.
Buprenorphine vs. Methadone
The most common medications used in ORT are buprenorphine and methadone. Both work in similar ways. They stimulate the cells in the brain to prevent withdrawal symptoms from kicking in. These opioids have a short half-life, so they can prevent opioid dependence.
There is a key difference between buprenorphine and methadone.
Buprenorphine is a partial agonist. This means that it does not activate any mu receptors. Its effects will plateau once it reaches a certain dose. The effects of this drug usually only last between 24 to 60 hours.
Methadone works in a similar way. This opioid prevents cravings. Unlike buprenorphine, it is a full agonist. This means that it does stimulate mu receptors in the body. It does not reach a plateau at all. In short, a stronger effect can be experienced with a higher dose.
While it’s impossible to overdose on buprenorphine, it’s possible to overdose on methadone. Methadone overdose symptoms are just like heroin overdose symptoms.
As a result, buprenorphine is six times safer than methadone.
Gender Differences to ORT
Since opioids affect both men and women differently, it’s important to find out whether the genders respond differently to ORT. To figure this out, researchers looked at treatment outcomes among patients struggling with long-term opioid dependence.
Among the patients seeking treatment, women had a higher tendency to use more drugs. They were also more likely to have performed sex work for the drugs in the past month.
While women were in rougher shape before seeking help, both men and women got the same amount of benefits from ORT. Once the baseline was adjusted, the study found that both genders responded positively to the treatment. They were both able to achieve sobriety from ORT.
The only difference lies in the fact that women tended to have more specific health improvements. However, when it came to the efficacy of the treatment, both genders benefited immensely from ORT. The treatment was effective on both genders. By seeking treatment, both genders improved their health, social life and overall lifestyle.
Seek Opioid Replacement Therapy to Break Free from the Grasps of Addiction
Opioid addiction is scary and dangerous. Not only is it difficult for addicts to get sober, but it is also very easy for them to overdose on opioids if they keep up their habit. Both prescription opioids and illicit drugs can wreak havoc on one’s respiratory and cardiac system.
Many addicts simply stop breathing after taking the opioids. Long-term addicts are likely to overdose thanks to the tolerance that they’ve built towards the drugs.
If you or someone you know is addicted to opioids, seek professional help immediately. Getting sober by yourself is never an easy task; however, the professionals at a recovery center have the resources to help you.
The medical staff will review your addiction profile to determine the type of medications that will benefit you the most. They will create a custom Opioid Replacement Therapy on your behalf. Under professional supervision, you are less likely to relapse and experience intense withdrawal symptoms.
Don’t try to get sober by yourself. Reach out and contact one of our counselors for more information. We’ll help you find a way out by creating a custom plan just for you. Seek refuge in our sanctuaries.