Of the 63,600 drug overdose deaths reported in 2016, 42,249 were attributed to opioids. The effects on the brain of the two most commonly prescribed prescription opioids (hydrocodone and oxycodone) are virtually indistinguishable from those of heroin. The addictive nature of prescription opioids is partially responsible for the current prescription drug crisis and the huge underground market in which people buy and sell these drugs illegally.
As the U.S. faces the worst drug epidemic in history, veterans are statistically one of the most highly impacted groups when it comes to opioid addiction.
The American Dental Association (ADA) has entered the ring in the fight against opioid abuse. Recent mandates outlined in a new ADA policy urge dentists to limit, if not discontinue opioid prescriptions for dental pain and educate themselves on opioid abuse and the use of alternative pain medications.
Despite heroin use impacting people of all socioeconomic strata, from Middle America to Hollywood, the stereotypical image of a heroin addict persists. Many people still think of heroin users as painfully thin individuals with track marks up and down their arms. Although opioid abuse comes with a host of serious short-and long-term side effects, some drug-related changes in appearance might be more accurately attributed to a reckless lifestyle. For example, some users forgo food to buy drugs.
Certain types of hydrocodone, one of the most commonly prescribed opioid painkillers and the most commonly prescribed medication of any kind in the United States, can cause permanent hearing loss in people who abuse the drug.
Hydrocodone is currently the most commonly prescribed opioid painkiller in the United States. A semi-synthetic narcotic medication that is sold as a generic or under the brand names Vicodin, Hysingla, Zohydro, Norco and Lorcet, hydrocodone is also one of the most commonly misused or abused opioid painkillers.
The number of senior citizens with drug addiction is on the rise in the United States, and prescription painkillers, such as hydrocodone and other opioids, play a major role in drug problems among the elderly. Opioid painkillers are the fourth most commonly abused substance among senior citizens in the U.S., following close behind alcohol, marijuana and stimulants.
Adults aged 50 and older are among the more than 3 million people in the United States who have opioid or opiate addictions. Overuse or misuse of prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone is so widespread that President Trump has declared the opioid epidemic a public “health emergency.”
President Donald Trump recently held a news conference to declare the nation’s opioid epidemic to be a “Public Health Emergency.” He outlined a wide-ranging plan for addressing “solutions” to opioid addiction and stated emphatically that it is essential that addicted Americans are supported in obtaining opioid addiction treatment.
OxyContin is the brand name for an extended-release form of oxycodone, a prescription opioid painkiller that is one of the most overprescribed and misused medications in the United States. Highly effective, but also highly addictive in both the immediate-release and extended-release forms, OxyContin and oxycodone are prescription narcotics with opium-like effects.
Due to widespread overprescribing of opioid pain medications in the U.S. since the 1990s, more people are being exposed to narcotics and becoming addicted to them. This has resulted in the current opioid epidemic and escalating drug overdose deaths. But this problem is not new.
An international team of researchers has found that people age 50 and older who are affected by opioid use disorder die more often than their younger counterparts.
In America and certain other countries, opioid use disorder is the diagnosis used to identify people addicted to an opioid drug or medication, as well as people who develop a dysfunctional pattern of opioid abuse in the absence of addiction. Inappropriate consumption of an opioid substance can have fatal consequences, whether or not an individual meets the criteria for this condition. In a study published in December 2014 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, a team of Australian, American and British researchers assessed the odds that an older person with opioid use disorder will die at a relatively early age.
Opioid addiction, known formally in the U.S. as opioid use disorder, is known for its ability to produce seriously negative outcomes for affected individuals. Addiction specialists can help significantly reduce the impact of these outcomes by providing appropriate treatment options. However, the potential for problems does not end when treatment begins. In a study published in January 2014 in the journal Addiction, an international research team looked at the long-term mortality rates of individuals who seek help for an opioid addiction. The researchers concluded that the vast majority of these individuals ultimately die from preventable causes.
Opioid Addiction and Treatment
Opioids can trigger problems because, when taken repeatedly over time, they alter the brain’s long-term chemical environment. In some cases, this alteration results in opioid dependence, a condition that features a reliance on opioids, but does not produce dysfunctional behavior or damage the life opportunities of the user. (Prescription opioid users who properly follow their doctors’ instructions are the group of people most likely to develop this functional dependence.) In other cases, it results in addiction, a condition marked by a reliance on opioids in combination with drug cravings, an inability to control drug intake and a range of negative behaviors that seriously endanger the user’s health and limit his or her life opportunities.
Treatment programs for opioid addiction commonly employ both medications and some form of counseling or therapy. Rather than seeking an outright cure for an addiction to opioids, modern-day programs often seek to successfully manage the condition over time in the same way that doctors manage other chronic conditions. Medication options in the treatment process include the relatively weak substitute opioids methadone and buprenorphine and anti-opioid substances called naltrexone and naloxone. Therapy and counseling options include cognitive behavioral therapy and other forms of group or individual psychotherapy, as well as participation in mutual support groups.
Understanding Preventable Death
According to the results of a Harvard School of Public Health study published in 2009 in the journal PLOS Medicine, the leading contributors to preventable death in the U.S. are tobacco smoking, high blood pressure, excessive body weight, a lack of physical activity, uncontrolled high blood sugar, high levels of LDL cholesterol, high sodium intake, a diet poor in omega-3 fatty acids, alcohol intake, a diet low in fruits and vegetables, and a diet simultaneously low in polyunsaturated fat and high in saturated fat. People who modify these known risk factors substantially reduce their chances of dying prematurely from causes such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer.
Figures for Opioid Addicts
In the study published in Addiction, researchers from Australia, the U.S. and Great Britain used a long-term project involving 43,789 Australian adults to determine the most likely causes of death among people who receive some form of treatment for opioid addiction. All of these individuals received opioid substitution therapy, which involves the use of methadone or buprenorphine to manage addictions to stronger opioid drugs or medications. The death rate and cause of death for the study participants were calculated for a 20-year timeframe between 1985 and 2005.
The researchers drew several conclusions after reviewing the gathered data. First, they found that certain causes of death — including suicides, opioid overdoses, car accidents and intentional injury — were much more common for younger recovering opioid addicts. Conversely, certain other causes of death — including cancer, liver disease and cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease — were much more common among older recovering addicts. Critically, the researchers found that fully 89 percent of all the deaths among men treated for opioid addiction were preventable. Women treated for opioid addiction died from preventable causes at a slightly less severe rate of 86 percent.
Significance and Considerations
In the general U.S. population, most deaths are linked to age-related factors, even if the people who die are also affected by preventable health problems. The 86.5 percent death rate from preventable causes among people treated for opioid addiction represents a stark reversal of this dominant trend. Although the authors of the study published in Addiction focused on an Australian population for their work, the similarities between America and Australia suggest that a similar situation may exist for people in the U.S. treated for opioid addiction. The authors point toward a need for large-scale efforts to reduce the mortality rates for recovering addicts.
Methadone and buprenorphine/naloxone are two of the primary medication options for treatment of people affected by opioid addiction. Both medications belong to a treatment approach called opioid substitution therapy. In a study published in January 2014 in the journal Addiction, researchers from six U.S. institutions compared the effectiveness of methadone to the effectiveness of buprenorphine/naloxone. These researchers found that each medication option has its unique benefit as an opioid addiction treatment. They also found that relatively high doses of each medication produce better results than relatively low doses.
Personality disorders are entrenched patterns of thought and behavior that damage affected individuals’ ability to do such things as maintain friendships or relationships, maintain a productive daily routine or take advantage of social opportunities. The American Psychiatric Association gives doctors the freedom to diagnose 10 main forms of these disorders. In a study published in January 2014 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, a Belgian research team assessed the impact of various personality disorders on the chances that a person will successfully complete an opioid addiction treatment program that uses an oral medication called naltrexone.