Understanding the Opioid Epidemic

Opioids are a class of drugs used to reduce pain and are typically derived from nature’s pain reliever, the opium poppy plant. Yet now, most are synthesized in laboratories to make powerful prescription medications.

Opioids are incredibly addictive, and not only reduce pain but can also induce a euphoric high in certain doses. Opioids access the reward center of the brain, so the compulsion and craving for the drug becomes stronger after every use.

Prescription painkillers such as Vicodin and Percocet are given to patients for pain relief and pain suppression. However, these prescription medications are also given to patients with chronic or minor pain, which is typically dangerous for such powerful and addictive substances. Other drugs such as morphine and fentanyl are even more powerful painkillers that are typically used in hospitalization and cancer-related pain and don’t often get used outside of those settings. However, they are just as addictive and can be abused and misused as well. Heroin is an illegal and dangerous opioid drug that, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, is made from morphine; a natural substance taken from the seed pod of the various opium poppy plants grown in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico and Colombia. It is often what people turn to when they are unable to continue receiving prescription painkillers. 

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, approximately 1.7 million individuals in the United States in 2018 had a substance use disorder related to prescription opioid pain relievers, and roughly around 80% of people who use heroin began by misusing opioid medicine.

The opioid epidemic in the U.S. is unbelievably telling of how prescription drugs can not only be dangerous but lethal to a person’s well-being and overall life. The opioid epidemic is not only devastating to every person who becomes dependent on these substances, but it is equally as devastating for their families, work colleagues and communities.

How Did This Happen?

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, in the late ’90s, pharmaceutical companies assured the medical community that prescription opioid medications could not create a substance abuse problem, as they were not addictive. Doctors and medical staff began prescribing them at a greater rate for pain, whether great or minor, to patients all over the U.S. This eventually led to mass misuse of these substances, which has now created the disastrous opioid epidemic, where thousands of people are dying and suffering each year due to opioid abuse.

According to the CDC, overdoses involving opioids killed nearly 47,000 people in 2018, and 32% of those deaths involved prescription opioids.

It is now well-known that opioids are highly addictive and potentially dangerous, so much so that large drug companies are being sued in response to the devastating epidemic that opioids have caused people across the country.  

Possible Side Effects of Opioids

In the short term, opioid use can relieve pain and cause people to feel relaxed and happy. Most drug companies still assert that prescription opioids are safe for the majority of people that use them in how it’s prescribed. However, some harmful side effects that opioids can cause are some or all of the following: drowsiness, confusion, nausea, constipation, euphoria and slowed breathing.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioid misuse can cause slowed breathing, which can cause hypoxia, a condition that results when too little oxygen reaches the brain. Hypoxia can have short- and long-term psychological and neurological effects, including coma, permanent brain damage or death. Researchers are also investigating the long-term effects of opioid addiction on the brain, including whether the damage can be reversed.

Opioid Overdoses & Responsible Prescriptions

The CDC said that in 2018, 67,367 drug overdose deaths occurred in the U.S., with opioids being the highest number of overdose deaths. Due to opioids dangerously addictive qualities, hijacking the reward center of the brain, euphoric highs and dangerous side effects, the possibilities for overdoses are scarily common.

The only way to truly combat this epidemic and prevent not only opioid overdoses but the opioid misuse epidemic in general, is to radically change how often and why we prescribe prescription painkillers to the general public. Another important element is to provide real help and tools to those suffering through an opioid substance use disorder that will help them get and stay sober.

Receiving Help for Opioid Abuse

The first step in getting sober from opioid abuse is to be honest with ourselves about what’s going on and seek out professional help. Opioids specifically are dangerously addictive and even the most driven, successful people will struggle to get sober by themselves.

From there, the next step from opioid dependency is detoxification. The idea of this step may invoke a lot of anxiety, fear and confusion; however, treatment programs involve immense support from doctors, medication and therapists to make the transition as comfortable and smooth as possible. Detoxification is different for everyone and it is important we are treated based on personal needs and experience. However, most detox phases last roughly between five and 14 days, and during this time individuals are usually placed into a quiet and restful area to create an easeful space for this process.

After the detox period, an individual is then specifically treated with various medications, therapies and treatments that will be tailored for their substance abuse disorder. This many involve medication-assisted treatment (MAT), behavioral therapies, one-on-one counseling, group therapy, support groups and more. During in-patient rehabilitation, individuals are usually exposed to the majority of these treatment plans and work closely with doctors and therapists to help aid in the process of sobriety as smoothly and pleasantly as possible.

Getting help for opioid addiction may feel overwhelming at first, but you are never alone in the pursuit of recovery and living a healthy, sober life. 


At Casa Palmera, we have seen first-hand the disastrous effects that the opioid epidemic has had on so many different people across the United States. We know how difficult this is to not only come to terms with, but to treat accordingly, and we encourage anyone who may be experiencing opioid misuse to seek out help. Whether you have questions about opioid use, are concerned for a loved one, or are seeking in-patient treatment, contact us today.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.