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Opioid Abuse and Addiction

Opioid Statistics and Opioid Abuse

According to a Stanford-Lancet Commission report on North America's opioid epidemic, the opioid crisis has claimed over 600,000 lives since 1999. Besides, an estimated 1.2 million Americans and Canadians will die from opiate overdoses by the decade's end.


Opioid drugs, when used as prescribed by your physician, may effectively manage acute pain, such as the kind you might feel after surgery. However, when these drugs are taken inappropriately, they can be fatal. Here are some facts and figures on opioids.

Important Opioid Statistics

  • The number of people dying from opioid overdoses has increased more than sixfold since 1999.

  • During the 12 months ending in April 2021, the overdose fatalities caused by opioids grew to 75,673, an upsurge from 56,064 the previous year.

  • Increasing the number of people with opioid use disorder who have access to effective therapies may save anywhere from $25,000 to $105,000 in total expenses per person. 

  • Synthetic opioids account for more than 60% of all overdose fatalities.

  • Healthcare expenditure for opioid overdose, abuse, and addiction is more than $35 billion annually.

  • Hospitals spend roughly $2 billion treating patients who have overdosed on opioids every year.

  • The criminal justice system spends nearly $15 billion daily dealing with opioid addiction.


It is estimated that opioid misuse costs the economy $92 billion in lost economic productivity. This is attributable to treating opioid use disorders and imprisonment for opioid-related offenses.

Opioids: What Are They, and How Do They Work

Opioids are synthetic (artificial) and semi-synthetic substances that bind to the brain's opioid receptors. These substances are extracted from poppy seeds. An opioid drug has analgesic and sedative properties and is used for pain treatment.


The most often prescribed opioids include codeine, fentanyl, methadone, tramadol, OxyContin, morphine, hydrocodone, Percocet, and others. Some other opioids (e.g., street heroin) are illicit substances. One of the primary reasons people consume opioids for non-medical purposes is that they may generate euphoria after intake. 


If you don't take the medication exactly as prescribed by your physician, you may find that its side effects lead you to want to continue using it regularly. Your brain eventually changes over time to acquire a solid and compulsive desire to use these painkillers even when you are not feeling any pain.


Opioids are used to manage a wide range of conditions, including:


  • Surgeries 

  • Dental treatments and toothaches

  • Cancer pain management

  • Injuries


Some over-the-counter cough medicines also have opioids in them. Opioids work by reducing the number of pain signals sent from the body to the brain, changing how the brain reacts to pain. As long as they are used correctly, opioids are safe. However, if you take too much of the drug, you could become addicted.

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Expert Contributor

Dr. Williams presently serves on the board of Directors for two non-profit service organizations. He holds a Master’s degree in Human Services from Lincoln University, Philadelphia, Pa, and a Ph.D. with a concentration in Clinical Psychology from Union Institute and University. In Cincinnati, Ohio. He is licensed to practice addictions counseling in both New Jersey and Connecticut and has a pending application as a practicing Psychologist in New Jersey.

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Opioid abuse
Important opioid stats
What are opioids and how do they work?

Opioid Use Disorder (OUD)

(OUD) opioid use disorder

Opioid abuse generally involves taking more than the recommended dosage or using it for recreational purposes. Naturally, abusing opioids leads to opioid use disorder (OUD).  


An opioid use disorder (OUD) is a self-destructive practice of using opioids that leads to adverse mental and physical health problems, including tolerance and severe withdrawal from the substance. Let's look at the short-term effects of opioids on the user before diving further into OUD.

The Immediate Effects of Opioids

Immediate effects of opioid use

Commonly prescribed opioids can cause a wide variety of immediate effects. The most common short-term side effects are flushing, drowsiness, an itchy rash, disorientation, dry mouth, vomiting, and nausea.


Other short-term effects include:


  • Lethargy 

  • Mental fog

  • Constipation 

  • Headache

  • Respiratory depression 

  • Feeling of euphoria


An opioid overdose is possible if you consume too much of these substances. This is a life-threatening medical issue. Symptoms may include, but are not limited to:


  • Unresponsiveness (inability to wake up)

  • Vomiting

  • Small pupils

  • Breathing slowly  or irregularly

  • Inability to breath

  • A slow, irregular pulse or none at all

  • Passing out 


Opioid overdose victims need prompt medical attention. Call 9-1-1 immediately if you have any reason to believe someone overdoses on opioids.


Because doctors are now aware of the dangers of opioids, it might be challenging to convince your physician to raise your dosage or even refill your prescription. Sadly, some opioid addicts, having failed to get more drug supply from their doctor, switch to heroin or other illicit drugs. In some instances, illegally acquired substances like fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, and Fentora) are combined with more potent opioids, such as heroin, making the situation even worse.

More About Opioid Abuse & Addiction

Signs of Opioid Addiction

Signs of opioid addiction

An opioid use disorder indicates that you have developed an opioid addiction and cannot function "normally" without it.


OUD is present when two or more of the following emerge within one year according to the DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition:


  • Taking more drugs or for a longer length of time than was prescribed.

  • Persistent desire to reduce or regulate opioid consumption but failed attempts.

  • Having to spend significant effort in getting, using, and recovering from the effects of opioids.

  • A strong desire, urge or drive to take opioids.

  • Having difficulties meeting duties at home, work, or school.

  • Continued opioid usage in the face of recurrent social or interpersonal problems.

  • Opioid usage causes you to cut down on or give up on your favorite hobbies.

  • Using opioids in potentially dangerous situations.

  • When physical or psychological issues persist, that is likely to have been aggravated or caused by opioids.

  • Tolerance.

  • Having withdrawal symptoms or using opioids or other substances to alleviate or ease withdrawal symptoms.


Treatment for prescription drug abuse varies, but it may entail stopping the usage under what is known as medical detox or medication-assisted treatment (MAT). To ease the symptoms of acute withdrawal and cravings, drugs such as methadone may be prescribed. Don't take any MAT drug without the guidance of an addiction specialist

Most people find the most success when a therapist resorts to combining medicine with talk therapies (whether done in an inpatient or outpatient setting). Treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), family therapy, and group therapy are some of the evidence-based choices available at Rolling Hills Recovery Center.

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Bottom Line

Bottom line

Anyone who uses opioids runs the danger of becoming addicted to them. Your family history and the amount of time you take opioids are factors, but it's hard to predict who will become addicted to and misuse these medications in the future. Whether legal or illicit, shared or stolen, these drugs are responsible for many overdose fatalities in the United States today.


Suppose you or a loved one is contemplating using any opioid to relieve pain. In that case, it is critical to consult with a practicing anesthesiologist, medical doctor, addiction specialist, or another pain expert about how to use them safely and whether or not other treatment alternatives are available for your situation.

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