What's Up With Opioids?

Transcript and citations

You may have heard about the opioid crisis—the huge increase in overdoses and deaths from opioids.1 So, What’s Up With Opioids?

“Opioids” include many drugs. Some are legally and legitimately prescribed by a doctor for pain relief. Others, like heroin, are illegal. Regardless of type, they’re all highly addictive, even when prescribed for good reasons.2

Opioid addiction can happen quickly or gradually, depending on the person. But everyone who takes them is at risk, whatever their age or background.3 So, why are opioids such a risk? They work by changing the way that your brain perceives pain—attaching to your brain’s opioid receptors.4 Your brain already has natural opioids such as endorphins which relieve pain and make you feel good during exercise. But opioid drugs are stronger and replace these natural opioids. This leads to an addictive process where the person needs more and more outside opioids just to feel normal. Unfortunately, over time these drugs can actually change the brain’s wiring, affecting one's ability to make decisions, tolerate stress and manage emotions.5 Opioids can even cause death.6

The stakes couldn’t be higher! But how can you avoid the dangers of opioids? Here are some things to know:

Risk to Young People

Young adults are particularly at risk for opioid misuse because:

  • Peer pressure
  • Ease of access
  • Lack of knowledge about the risks of opioids
  • Vulnerability due to incomplete brain development7

WARNING SIGNS

Know the signs of an opioid overdose.
  • Slow breathing
  • Pale appearance
  • Limpness
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Extreme sedation
  • Seizures

WHAT TO DO

What to do in case of an opioid overdose.
  • Call 911 first!
  • Try to wake the person up
  • Use naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug, if available
CITATIONS
  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016, January 01). Opioid Overdose Prevention Toolkit. Retrieved September 22, 2017, from https://store.samhsa.gov/product/Opioid-Overdose-Prevention-Toolkit/SMA16-4742
  2. Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Heath. (2016). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Younger, J., & Chu, L. (2011, April 30). Prescription Opioid Analgesics Rapidly Change the Human Brain. Retrieved September 22, 2017, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S030439591100220X
  5. Ibid.
  6. Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Heath. (2016). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General.
  7. Ibid.