According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 2 million Americans were estimated to have an opioid use disorder in 2018.
The opioid epidemic is large and, controversially, attributed to the marketing practices of pharmaceutical companies such as Purdue Pharma, who aggressively promoted OxyContin as a safe and effective pain reliever while downplaying the side effects and risk of addiction. This led to many becoming dependent and addicted to opioid medications, as well as transitioning to even more lethal drugs like heroin and fentanyl. Other companies like Johnson & Johnson and Endo Pharmaceuticals have also faced lawsuits for their role in the epidemic.
The misuse of opioids can lead to physical dependence, addiction, overdose, and death, highlighting the urgent need for effective prevention, treatment, and recovery programs.
The Physiology Of Opioids
Opioids are a class of drugs that act on our natural opioid receptors, which are found throughout the brain and body. When an opioid drug is ingested, it binds to these receptors, causing a release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters, which activate the brain’s reward pathways. This produces feelings of euphoria, pain relief, and relaxation.
The effects of opioids can vary depending on the specific drug and the method of administration, but common side effects include drowsiness, constipation, nausea, and respiratory depression. The latter occurs because opioids also bind to receptors in the brainstem, which controls breathing. In high doses, this can cause a slowing or stopping of breathing, which can lead to an overdose.
During an overdose, the body becomes overwhelmed by the effects of the opioid, leading to a decrease in oxygen levels and potentially fatal complications. The symptoms of an overdose include slow or shallow breathing, extreme drowsiness, pinpoint pupils, and loss of consciousness. If left untreated, an overdose can cause permanent brain damage or death.
What Is Opioid Withdrawal?
Opioid withdrawal refers to the set of symptoms that occur when a person who has been regularly using opioids stops taking them suddenly or significantly reduces their dosage.
Opioid withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe and typically begin within a few hours to a few days after the last dose of opioids. Some common symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:
- Muscle aches and pains
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dilated pupils
- Runny nose
- Rapid heartbeat
Withdrawal from opioids can be very uncomfortable, and sometimes, it can be dangerous. People who are experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms should seek medical attention immediately. In addition, it’s important for anyone who is trying to quit opioids to do so under the guidance of a healthcare professional to ensure that they do it safely and effectively.
Can You Die From Opioid Withdrawal?
Although opioid withdrawal can be unpleasant, it is generally not life-threatening on its own. However, in some cases, opioid withdrawal can lead to complications that can be highly dangerous or even deadly.
For example, people experiencing severe vomiting or diarrhea because of opioid withdrawal can become dehydrated, which can lead to electrolyte imbalances and other medical problems. In addition, people who have preexisting medical conditions, such as heart or lung disease, may be at an increased risk of complications during opioid withdrawal.
Moreover, the risk of death may increase if someone who is experiencing opioid withdrawal relapses and takes a high dose of opioids. This is because the body’s tolerance to opioids decreases during withdrawal, so a dose that would have been safe before withdrawal may now cause an overdose.
We Can Help You
If you or a loved one are battling an addiction to opioids, please reach out to us. Withdrawal can be a daunting aspect of becoming clean and healthy. However, we can provide supportive care to manage symptoms and monitor for any potential complications.