Risky business

Opioid use and dealing with the consequences

Posted 9/6/23

NATIONWIDE — The opioid crisis has emerged as one of the most pressing public health challenges of our time, wreaking havoc on individuals, families and communities across countries. 

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Risky business

Opioid use and dealing with the consequences


NATIONWIDE — The opioid crisis has emerged as one of the most pressing public health challenges of our time, wreaking havoc on individuals, families and communities across countries. 

The epidemic began in the late 1990s, when opioids were marketed as safe and effective pain management solutions. This widespread use of medications such as Vicodin led to a surge in prescription drug use. 

Opioids are often prescribed to people suffering from pain to relieve their symptoms, However, these highly addictive substances are subject to strong misuse. Opioids overdoses killed approximately 80,000 Americans in 2020.   This worsened in 2022, leading to over 109,000 deaths in a year.

Opioids have their point 

 Opioids such as morphine are still very effective medicines and are widely used and prescribed by doctors. In fact, according to an article in Clinics in Colon and Rectal Surgery by Garimella et al. at the University of Rochester Medical Center, morphine, hydromorphone and fentanyl are the “most commonly used intravenous opioids for postoperative pain.”  

Other opioids, such as butorphanol, can be used for severe pain during labor. Furthermore, morphine is touted as a “long-standing therapy”  commonly used for acute management of heart failure, although its use in this regard is controversial. 

So opioids are used commonly in the medical field.

Terrible risks

 Sadly, opioid addictions not only negatively affect the overall mental and physical health of people who are on it, but also tear apart families and relationships and can impair family dynamics. 

Furthermore, opioids are commonly injected into the bloodstream, and this can also result in the spread of infectious diseases such as Hepatitis B and C. It can also lead to other complications. (See “Another danger,” bottom right of this page.)

Addiction and withdrawal

Even though opioids undoubtedly can lead to overdose and death, they are also addictive substances. A person who suddenly stops smoking exhibits withdrawal symptoms, and a person who suddenly stops opioid use also exhibits withdrawal symptoms. 

Opioid withdrawal is caused by “abrupt opioid dose reduction or discontinuation” of opioid use and can lead to various symptoms such as tachycardia—when your heart beats fast—hypertension, flu-like symptoms and GI symptoms such as diarrhea, according to a guide for clinicians.  

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration lists methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone as the main drugs for pharmacological therapy in treating substance use disorders. 

Naloxone can be given to any person who overdosed on any opioid, even if you do not know what opioid you have been overdosed on. According to health.ny.gov, you might be able to get Naloxone from a local pharmacy without a personal prescription.

Another positive about Naloxone is that it can be used on pregnant women, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. This is important, because many drugs are considered teratogenic—meaning that they absolutely cannot be used around women because exposure or ingesting them can lead to birth defects. 

Naloxone can save lives.
Naloxone can save lives.

Staying the course

Adhering to medications is essential for treatment. “The longer a person with opioid use disorder (OUD) stays in medication treatment, the greater the chance of a successful recovery,” said Melissa Stickle, Sullivan County commissioner for community resources in a recent statement. “However, challenges associated with availability and acceptance of medication treatment exist.”

There are programs out there to help. The stated goal of SALT—Sullivan Allies Leading Together—is to work together “to improve the quality of life for the residents of Sullivan County.” 

Part of the SALT program includes the Drug Free Communities Grant, which aims to prevent youth substance use with the guidance of the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America.  SALT works to “increase the perception of harm and knowledge” of the dangers of underage drug use such as opioids. SALT partners with the Monticello Central School District and Cornell Cooperative Extension Sullivan County, where it uses activities and youth-focused programs to raise awareness of OUD and the use of other drugs. 

The opioid crisis is a tragic epidemic that has far-reaching implications for communities everywhere. With concerted efforts from local officials and programs such as the SALT program and the HEALing communities study, all can work together to raise awareness of the opioid epidemic, educating youth on the dangers of opioids and helping people manage opioid withdrawal.

It’s not a failure of will

Local officials are working to combat this epidemic and address barriers to health care. “What many do not realize is that Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) is a very real medical disorder characterized by an inability to stop the use of an addictive substance, despite the negative consequences associated with its use,” said Sullivan County Health & Human Services deputy commissioner Melissa Stickle in a recent statement. 

She noted that addiction is a ”chronic brain disease” and “not a lack of willpower,” meaning that it is something that takes over your brain and physically prevents you from stopping it. This leads to withdrawal’s side effects. 

Stickle also mentioned that “medications can be part of the solution,” and therefore Sullivan County officials are participating in the HEALing Communities Study, a statewide campaign that helps people with opioid use disorder. According to the campaign, people share their stories about how they have overcome their challenges. 

The goal of this study is to penetrate community settings, especially communities in upstate New York, such as Sullivan.  

“Addiction is a chronic brain disease—not a lack of willpower. Recovery from OUD also requires more than willpower, and medications can be part of the solution,” Stickle said.

Another danger of injectable drugs 

Injectable drug use can lead to the spread of bacterial species such as Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause endocarditis—an infection of the endocardium wherein bacteria can infect your heart valves and spread to your bloodstream. 

This can lead to further complications such as retinal bleeding in your eyes and painful nodules on your fingers and even death. 

These bacteria can also travel and clot to your lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism, and mortality rates for endocarditis have been found to be quite high in some cases.

opioid, consequences, addiction, withdrawal


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