The opioid epidemic has been ravishing through the United State of America since the 1990s and it has been worsening over the years. According to statistics from the Center for Disease Control, the number of individuals who have died from opioid overdose since 1999 has nearly quadrupled and in 2014, the most recent year for which statistics are available, more than 28,000 individuals died from opioid overdose and more than half of these numbers were from prescription opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, fentanyl, and morphine. Opioid prescriptions have skyrocketed and approximately 80% of new heroin users became hooked after beginning to take opioid prescription pain medications for nonmedical reasons. Opioid prescriptions are being sold on the black market, stolen from doctors’ offices and even sold by doctors for a large fee. According to studies, it is the misuse of prescription opioids that results in addiction. If individuals use them as directed, they have a very low chance of developing an addiction.

Different opioids affect the body at different rates. Some are fast-acting meaning their effects take place in a short amount of time and are then eliminated from the body soon after where, medium and long-acting opiates take longer to produce effects and stay in the body for a longer duration of time. Also, there are different strengths depending on the specific type of opioid. For example, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. Opioid intoxication can be lethal. Regardless of the potency and duration of action, the signs and symptoms of opioid intoxication are all the same and are

  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Constricted pupils (meiosis)
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Constipation
  • Respiratory depression (shallow and short breathing)
  • Track marks on skin or fresh puncture wounds
  • Weight loss
  • Mood swings
  • Frequent nose bleeds (if heroin is snorted)

Like with any type of drug abuse, opioid use also results in changes in behavior causing decreased work performance, conflicts within relationships, immoral behavior jus as lying and even illegal behavior such as left or violence. Addiction refers to the psychological changes associated with drug use over time. In other words, addiction affects brain chemistry, which in turn affects the individual’s behavior. Even if the individual is not currently intoxicated, their behavior can be altered over time.

Additional signs of opioid addiction

  • Physical agitation
  • Poor decision making
  • Abandoning responsibilities
  • Slurred speech
  • Sleeping more or less than normal
  • Mood swings
  • Euphoria (feeling high)
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Lowered motivation
  • Anxiety attacks

Withdrawal effects of heroin

Like all other opioids, heroin can result in severe physical withdrawal effects since this is an addictive drug resulting in physical dependence. Death can occur from opioid overdose but not withdrawal however the opioid withdrawal effects can be excruciating and is one of the main reasons why many individuals relapse. Although withdrawal effects from heroin are not lethal they are extremely painful and are one of the leading causes for continued relapse. Withdrawal effects of heroin include the following:

  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Muscle aches
  • Bone pain
  • Severe sweating
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive tearing and runny nose (lacrimation and rhinorrhea)
  • Shivering
  • Abdominal pain