Among the more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths estimated in 2016, the sharpest increase occurred among deaths related to opioids and fentanyl with over 20,000 overdose deaths.
What are Opioids? Opioids are a category of highly addictive narcotic drugs that include prescription pain medicine and illegal substances like heroin. They are products, or synthetic versions, of the opium produced in small amounts by poppy plants. Large doses can slow body's heart and breathing rate to the point of stopping completely.
How Opioids Cause Addiction Opioids cause a temporary "high" by creating artificial endorphins—hormones normally made in the body to decrease pain. Continued opioid use can make the brain stop producing its own endorphins and build up tolerance. This, in turn, leads people to take increasingly higher doses to feel good and avoid severe, flu-like withdrawal symptoms. When a prescription runs out, someone who has become addicted to opioids may start buying them from street dealers or turn to another illegal and even more dangerous form - heroin. Studies show four out of five new heroin users started by misusing prescription painkillers.
What is Fentanyl? Along with other similarly potent synthetic opioids, fentanyl also shows up in illicit forms that are frequently combined with heroin, cocaine and other street drugs, and carries a high risk of overdose and fatality. According to the CDC, the death rate of synthetic opioids like fentanyl increased by 72.2% from 2014 to 2015.
What are signs of use? * Euphoria * Drowsiness * Confusion * Sedation * Respiratory depression and arrest Abuse is when someone takes a prescription drug without a doctor’s prescription or in a way or amount that is different from what was prescribed. Abuse of prescription drugs can have serious and harmful health effects, including poisoning and even death. The Brain's Response to Prescription Drugs Prescription drugs are medicines that are prescribed to a person by his or her doctor to treat diseases. Some prescription drugs affect the brain—especially those used to treat pain, or mental disorders such as anxiety or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Doctors decide how much of a drug to give a person based on that person’s age, size, and medical history. By doing so, doctors oversee the safe and proper use of prescription drugs. Abuse is when someone takes a prescription drug without a doctor’s prescription or in a way or amount that is different from what was prescribed. Abuse of prescription drugs can have serious and harmful health effects, including poisoning and even death.
How Do Prescription Drugs Work in the Brain? Prescription drugs change the chemistry of the brain. The brain is made up of about 100 billion neurons, also known as nerve cells. Neurons communicate with each other by using chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. There are many types of neurotransmitters, and each one carries a specific message. Neurotransmitters deliver their messages by attaching to special places on nerve cells called receptors. Prescription drugs act by mimicking certain neurotransmitters.
Prescription Painkillers Prescription painkillers are powerful drugs that reduce pain. These drugs are very helpful to people with severe pain from injuries, and cancer and other diseases. Prescription painkillers attach to particular sites in the brain called opioid receptors, which carry messages about pain. With proper use of prescription painkillers, the pain messages sent to the brain are changed and are no longer perceived as painful. Patients who are prescribed painkillers for a long period of time may develop a “physical dependence” on them. This is not the same as addiction. Physical dependence happens because the body adapts to having the drug around, and when its use is stopped abruptly, the person can experience symptoms of withdrawal. That is why these drugs are carefully monitored and should be taken or stopped only under a doctor’s orders. Prescription painkillers can be highly addictive when used improperly—without a doctor’s prescription or in doses higher than prescribed. Addiction means that a person will strongly crave the drug and continue to use it despite severe consequences to their health and their life. Prescription painkillers also affect the brain areas controlling respiration, and when used improperly (or mixed with other drugs) can cause a severe decrease in breathing that can lead to death. SOURCE: SOURCE: NATIONAL INSTITUTE ON DRUG ABUSE; NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH; U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES; DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENCY (DEA)