What is the risk of prescription opioids? Earlier this year, Arizona won more than $13 Million in a large-scale lawsuit against a major consulting firm, McKinsey and Company, which officials claimed contributed to the increase of sales and use of opioids by providing information to opioid manufacturers. The firm’s influence added fuel to the fire by telling manufacturers how to market and drive sales.

Many firms like this have been responsible for the rise in opioid sales and prescriptions over the decades, leading to the current opioid crisis in the U.S.

What Are Opioids?

Prescription opioids are strong, pain-reducing medications that include morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine, fentanyl, among others. Opioids are either found in the opium poppy plant or created synthetically and contain chemicals that relax the body and relieve pain. Opioids, which are sometimes called narcotics, also include heroin, a dangerous and illicit drug.

Legal opioids are often prescribed after major surgery or for chronic pain, such as back injury or cancer. Some opioids are even prescribed for treating minor ailments, like coughs and diarrhea. Unfortunately, there are many uncomfortable side effects from opioids like drowsiness, brain fog, constipation, nausea, and confusion. Using opioids, even as prescribed, can lead to physical dependency and addiction.

Misuse and Abuse of Opioids

While many patients use opioids as prescribed, sometimes people use them for non-medical reasons, as they can make a person feel relaxed and “high.” Many people who abuse opioids do it by taking it in a way other than prescribed or using someone else’s prescription. Opioid abuse can lead to addiction, overdose, and even death.

Taking more than prescribed can lead to slowed breathing, which can cause hypoxia, a condition that happens when too little oxygen reaches the brain. Hypoxia can cause comas, permanent brain damage, and even death. Repeated misuse of prescription opioids can lead to a substance use disorder (SUD). The most severe form of a SUD is addiction, defined as a chronic disease characterized by compulsive or uncontrollable drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences.

The Danger of Dependency on Opioids

Regular use of opioids, even as prescribed by a doctor, can lead to physical dependency. Long-term use of prescription opioids can cause some people to develop a tolerance, leading to higher and more frequent doses.

Dependency occurs after repeated use when the neurons adapt to only function normally in the presence of opioids. Some chronic pain patients can become dependent on opioids and require medical support to stop using them. Dependency can lead to withdrawal symptoms like insomnia, muscle and bone pain, severe cravings, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Older adults are at greater risk for accidental misuse because they can have multiple prescriptions and chronic diseases, meaning many different types of medications that can increase the risk of drug-drug and drug-disease interactions. Older adults also have a slower metabolism that can affect the breakdown of drugs.

A National Problem

The U.S. is currently experiencing a national opioid epidemic that is only now starting to improve–little by little–due to media attention and proactive policymaking. In 2017, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a “public health emergency.”  A report released by the FDA said that ninety-one Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

Overdoses from prescription opioids are reducing life expectancies in the U.S. According to data from the CDC,  in 2018, there were 67,367 drug overdose deaths, 4.1% fewer than in 2017.  Opioids were involved in 46,802 overdose deaths in 2018 — nearly 70% of all overdose deaths. Deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone (including fentanyl) rose with more than 28,400 overdose deaths in 2018, increasing by 10%.

Additionally, the U.S. has been dealing with an influx of infants with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) and Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome (NOWS), which occurs if a woman uses opioids when she’s pregnant. When a pregnant woman uses opioids, the baby can develop a dependency on the drug and have withdrawal symptoms after birth.

Using opioids while pregnant can also cause low birth weight or lead to miscarriage. The national incidence rate of NAS/NOWS in 2016 was seven cases per 1,000 hospital births.

An Epidemic in Arizona

Arizona is facing its own issues with the opioid crisis. In 2018, Governor Doug Ducey signed the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act. The law provides $10 million for treatment as well as limiting an initial opioid prescription to five days (with some exemptions). Even with a law in place, the epidemic still rages on.

According to Maricopa.gov, from October 2018 to September 2019, opioids (including prescriptions and heroin) killed 898 people, and over 75% of all opioid overdose deaths involved prescription opioids and fentanyl. The largest age group to have overdose deaths were between the ages of 35 to 44 years old. Data from Maricopa County also shows us that drug overdose deaths in 2019 were predominantly male at 73% of the total amount.

The opioid epidemic has destroyed thousands of lives and continues to be a very real problem even after laws and lawsuits that hold companies and people accountable. Thankfully, as attention is paid to this epidemic, the dispensing rate has declined from 2012 to 2019, with 2019 being the lowest dispensing rate in 14 years. Despite this, some counties continue to have high dispense rates, leaving some communities vulnerable. Knowing the dangers of opioid misuse could help you and your loved ones stay safe and informed. If you or a loved one is addicted to opioids, there is treatment available. Opioid addiction can be treated by Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) through medications, like methadone and buprenorphine. At Cornerstone Healing Center in Scottsdale, AZ, we offer MAT as a form of detox as you or your loved one work through withdrawal symptoms. To learn more about opioids and get help for opioid dependency or addiction, call us today at (800) 643-2108.