Prescription opioids and opioid addiction

What Makes Prescription Opioids So Dangerous?

If you’ve skimmed the headlines in recent years, you know prescription opioid addiction is a true American crisis. 

And things are only getting worse. The CDC reported a 38% increase in deaths by opioid overdose from December 2019 to December 2020. 

Maybe, when you see this statistic, you think to yourself, “That’s so sad. I’m glad I don’t struggle with opioid addiction.” 


But here’s the thing: you could. 

Unlike other forms of addiction that may begin with a participant willingly taking a step over a line you wouldn’t dare approach, opioids are often first taken at the direction of a trusted medical professional. 


That’s why we all need to understand better what opioids are, how they work and what makes them potentially dangerous for everyone. This way, if we one day hold a prescription in our hands, we can proceed with caution and wisdom


5 Questions to Ask if You Want to Understand Prescription Opioids Better

Let’s cover the basics, shall we?


What are opioids?

Despite recent news coverage, opioids aren’t new. In fact, they’ve been in use for thousands of years! Doctors prescribe opioids to help patients manage chronic pain or to reduce pain following injury or surgery. 


How do opioids work?

Opioids actually do a pretty incredible thing. 


They hitch themselves onto opioid receptors through the body and effectively set up a blockade. So when your back says, “Hurting again! You should feel the misery any second now!” your brain never gets the message. 


You can imagine—and perhaps have experienced—the immense relief opioids bring for cancer patients, children recovering from wisdom teeth removal and folks who’ve lived with various types of pain for years. 


What specific medications and drugs are considered prescription opioids?

There are two main categories of opioids: prescription and illegal. 


Before we get into the names of each, please remember that while illegal opioids are more fraught with danger, people who misuse prescription opioids are also susceptible to addiction, overdose and death. Arguably more so because of the approved nature of prescription drugs. 

Common opioids prescribed by doctors

  • Hydrocodone
  • Morphine
  • OxyContin
  • Percocet
  • Palladone
  • Vicodin


Opioids obtained illegally include heroin and fentanyl. Heroin laced with fentanyl can be impossible to detect and often results in death as fentanyl is much more potent than heroin. And research shows that 80% of heroin users got there by first misusing prescription opioid pills. 


What makes prescription opioids dangerous?

Opioids work so well as a pain reliever that some patients find they need to prolong their prescription, up their dosage amount or find relief in illicit drugs in order to keep the pain at bay. 


As a result, more than 2 million Americans currently misuse opioids—a staggering amount! 


Remember, opioids block important signals between the brain and the body. Misuse of prescription opioids or taking heroin can result in shallow breathing, a slowed heart rate, loss of consciousness and death


What should I do to avoid opioid addiction?

There’s no doubt that the vast majority of people with opioid addiction started out with innocent intentions. But informed intentions are better. And they might just prevent problems in the future. 


If you’re prescribed opioids, talk with your doctor about the following: 

  • What alternatives can you offer for pain management?
  • If opioids are necessary, what’s the minimum amount of time you’d recommend I take them?
  • What side effects should I be aware of?
  • Can you offer a plan for safely weaning myself off of opioids as soon as possible?


After all, we don’t know who will become addicted to opioids and who won’t. It’s best to plan well—prepare for the worst and hope for the best. 


If you or your loved one are dependent on opioids and would like to stop taking them, The Right Step Houston can help. Call us at 844.768.0169


By Stephanie Thomas

Contributing Writer with Promises Behavioral Health

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