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Opioids: Use, Misuse, and Abuse

The use of opioids to help ease and treat situational or chronic pain has become increasingly controversial. This is mainly due to the prevalence of misuse and abuse of opioids that has taken our society by storm.

While opioids are not new to the market, they seem to be easier to get than ever before and can sometimes be overprescribed. According to Andrew Rosenblum,  Lisa A. Marsch, Herman Joseph, and Russell K. Portenoy, in their article titled, “Opioids and the Treatment of Chronic Pain: Controversies, Current Status, and Future Directions,” “Concerns related to effectiveness, safety, and abuse liability have evolved over decades, sometimes driving a more restrictive perspective and sometimes leading to a greater willingness to endorse this treatment.” While they still remain one of the most effective options for pain management, the role opioids can play in addiction has resulted in conflicting opinions about this treatment option.

When it comes to opioids and many other medications, you have people who use the drugs appropriately, those who misuse the drugs, and others who abuse them. It is important to understand how these terms are defined and where the line is drawn between each.

Opioid Use

The use of opioids refers to taking the medication as intended. This implies the correct dosage at the correct frequency for the correct duration. Anything outside of these parameters can be considered misuse.

Taking extra care to read and understand the instructions for the prescription is incredibly important when it comes to these medications. If something is unclear, it’s important to ask your provider. Opioids are known as controlled substances for a reason. If not taken exactly as intended, there is the risk of developing an addiction even after one occasion of misuse.

Opioid Misuse

Misuse can be mild. Occasional misuse of medications can certainly occur. Skipping a dose by accident or even taking your next dose a little early or a little later by mistake can happen. Depending on the medication, this can have minimal effects or significant ones. This can be a one-time error, or it can be more frequent. Sometimes, misuse can quickly evolve from an honest mistake to a recurring habit.

Misuse refers to failing to take the medication exactly as prescribed. This could also include taking more than the recommended dose or even less than what is prescribed. Misuse could also refer to taking the medication for longer than needed or failing to take the medication for the length of time prescribed.

Taking medication not prescribed to you or allowing someone else to take your medication is also an example of misuse. Concerning opioids, this can be extremely dangerous. Strength and dosage are individualized for the intended patient to target a specific ailment. Anyone taking the medication other than how it’s prescribed is misusing the drug.

Opioid Abuse

Abuse of opioids refers to taking the medication for reasons other than its intended use or in excess amounts. The key difference between misuse and abuse is the intent of the user. Misuse still involves taking the drug as a form of treatment, while abuse implies taking the drug to obtain a certain feeling.

Opioids are known to be highly addictive. In addition to reducing pain, they release endorphins and activate reward centers in the brain, producing a false sense of ease and well-being. This is the feeling most abusers are seeking.

Abuse often occurs after being prescribed the medication for a well-intended reason. The prescription ends, and perhaps the pain still exists. Sometimes, the desire to feel the effects of the drug influence seeking out more even after the pain has subsided.

Tips for Avoiding Misuse and Abuse

By following the prescription exactly and being aware of the risks and side effects, opioids can serve as an effective treatment for certain conditions. Some tips for avoiding misuse and abuse include:

  • Make a plan with your provider
  • Know the alternative options
  • Take the medication exactly as prescribed
  • Report any side effects or symptoms immediately
  • Do not share or sell your medication under any circumstances
  • Ensure proper and secure storage at all times
  • Properly dispose of any unused medication following FDA guidance

Opioid misuse and abuse is a huge problem in today’s society, with incidents of overdose and opioid-related deaths continuing to increase. As described by Phillips JK, Ford MA, and Bonnie RJ in their book, Pain Management and the Opioid Epidemic: Balancing Societal and Individual Benefits and Risks of Prescription Opioid Use, “Current national trends indicate that each year more people die of overdoses—the majority of which involve opioid drugs—than died in the entirety of the Vietnam War, the Korean War, or any armed conflict since the end of World War II.” These statistics are tragic. Understanding the risks of taking these medications and knowing what constitutes appropriate use, misuse, and abuse is critical. If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction, it’s time to seek help.

The use of opioids is and will continue to be a controversial topic. With their known risks and addictive tendencies, it is understandable that this would be the case. We face an opioid crisis in today’s society, with more and more people falling victim to the hold it can have on their lives. It is critical to take the medications as prescribed to ensure no misuse or abuse of the drug. Even with the best of intentions, it can be possible to form an addiction to these substances, which can escalate quickly. Enlightened Solutions offers a variety of treatment options for addiction, and conducts a full assessment upon intake to ensure the most individualized and best quality of care possible. Let us help you take back control of your life. If you or someone you care about is struggling with addiction, give Enlightened Solutions a call today at (833) 801-LIVE.

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