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How opioid addiction starts, and how it can end

October 10, 2019

Vicodin.  OxyContin.  Codeine.  Fentanyl.  Heroin.  We’ve all heard these names on TV or the radio, maybe in discussion, or maybe you know someone who uses them.  These medications - to name a few – are classified as opioids.  If you’ve watched the news or read a newspaper in the past few years, you’ve probably seen that the United States has declared a war against the misuse of these drugs.  According to one article from, more than 130 people die per day due to an opioid overdose.  That same article notes that in 2017, an estimated 1.7 million people within the United States struggled with an opiate use disorder with 652,000 of those being heroin specific.  Unfortunately, being in a rural community we may think that we’re protected from such a catastrophic situation.  However, according to the CDC in 2017, Illinois is on the list for significant increases in overdose deaths.  Addiction can be difficult to understand and knowledge is power… so let’s get into it!

Let’s start with the basics.  What is an opioid?  Opioids are medications used to treat and manage pain.  Many people begin their addiction being prescribed an opiate after a surgery or for legitimate pain, and over time the addiction takes over.1  It is common for someone to transition from prescription pills to heroin as a result of an inability to afford or be prescribed the prescription.  Both prescription opioids and heroin provide a euphoric effect.  These medications are taken orally, smoked, or injected intravenously.  When a person takes an opiate, it is absorbed through the blood stream and fills the brain with artificial dopamine and endorphins, which creates the euphoric feeling.  However, when these medications are consumed the brain stops making natural dopamine and endorphins; this changes how the person experiences these feelings, in a bad way.  The person begins to rely on the opiate to create those feelings.  Eventually, the person feels the insatiable need to take more and more medication to create feelings of happiness and euphoria.  Aside from the feelings of euphoria, there are negative side effects associated with opioid use including drowsiness, confusion, slowed breathing, and constipation.2

If a person is prescribed an opiate, the danger of addiction increases after approximately 3-5 days of use.  An article from CBS News states, “The rate of long-term opioid use increased to about 13 percent for patients who first took the drugs for eight days or more.”  Addiction can impact every aspect of one’s life.  How do you know if someone is addicted to opiates?  You may notice an increase in the amount of opioids being consumed, or cravings to consume opioids.  A person may try to cut down or control the use or on the flip side, spend a significant amount of time trying to gain access to the drug.  Recurrent use can impact social, occupational or recreational activities or even lead to putting themselves into a dangerous situation to get the drug.  Tolerance – which is the need for increased amounts of the medication to achieve that euphoric effect – can then lead to withdrawal.  Withdrawal is a sickness associated with not being able to get the drug which leads to physical illness, vomiting, diarrhea, and often irritability.

So if there’s a national crisis, then what’s being done about it?  There are a number of resources available to help someone who may be struggling with addiction.  When it comes to recovery, there are two options: abstinence-based treatment and medication-assisted treatment.  Each individual is unique regarding their needs for sobriety and assistance so each program is individualized for the individual.  Inpatient detox programs begin the process by helping people get opiates out of their system.  Inpatient rehabilitation programs allow a patient a place to stay while seeking treatment.  These programs fluctuate length of stay based on need.  Intensive Outpatient is the next step down which allows the person to return home while being submersed in treatment multiple times per week.  There are other groups such as Narcotics Anonymous which are support-based from other peers who have struggled themselves.  You might have heard of Suboxone or Zubsolv?  These are medications that help people wean from opiates to a different medication to eventually taper off completely.  These medications attach themselves to the same receptors as opioids to curb cravings.  (Perry’s Prompt Care offers Suboxone treatment and counseling to help people trying to overcome opioid addictions.)

At the end of the day, opioids have become overwhelming within the United States and within our community.  The need for knowledge, understanding and assistance is there.  Stigma is huge when it comes to those who struggle with addiction, but if you or someone you loves struggles…help them get help.  This addiction can be fatal.  If you’re not sure where to start, connect with Ariel at the Family Health Clinic, or go to the SAMHSA website to view a list of resources for opioid treatment.

Thanks to a federal grant awarded to the Arukah Institute of Healing in Princeton, Perry Memorial Hospital and other area healthcare organizations will be increasing access to mental health services and resources within Bureau, LaSalle, and Putnam counties over the coming years.

Ariel Pozzi, LCSW

Family Health Clinic