You likely either know someone with an opioid addiction or someone who has been affected by one. The number of substance abuse cases across the United States is steadily increasing, and many healthcare providers are struggling to get a grasp on how to treat and manage those affected. Before you can begin to treat the opioid epidemic, you have to understand what exactly it is.

What are Opioids?

Opioids come in two forms: legal and illegal. Of course, some legal opioids are resold illegally, but the drug itself is legal. Legal opioids are a class of narcotics that include:
• Tramadol
• Oxycodone
• Hydrocodone
• Fentanyl

These narcotics are commonly prescribed after a patient suffers a major injury or undergoes a serious procedure. For many patients, the small script they receive in these times causes no problem, but for others, it’s the gateway to their addiction. Heroin is an illegal version of an opioid. Heroin is extremely easy to overdose on and comes from unreliable sources, leaving many users with a harmful mixture of drugs in their body.

What Causes Addiction?

The exact science behind addiction remains unknown, but we do know that it’s a disease of the brain. Opioid users become addicted to the feeling they get after taking opioids and become dependent on them in their day to day life. This leads to compulsive and dangerous behavior and they struggle to obtain more. Many opioid addicts begin with legal prescription opioids but soon turn to heroin because it’s cheaper, easier to obtain, and gives a more intense high.

Treating Addiction

Treating opioid addiction is something that will vary slightly from one patient to the next. To put it simply, there are two major forms of treatment: medication and therapy.
Medication can be used to help curb the craving for opioids and reduce the feeling of withdrawal symptoms. Other medications are available that block the sensation a user gets when taking an opioid and replaces it with negative, withdrawal-like symptoms. Determining which medication is right for an individual will come from their physician and therapist’s discussion. There are emergency medications used to revive a patient in the event of an overdose as well.

Therapy is used in conjunction with medication-based treatment for opioid addicts. The goal of the therapy is to help the addict recognize unhealthy behavior and give them the tools to replace the addiction with healthier coping mechanisms. Addiction is a disease of the mind, so treating the mind as well as the body is vital to a successful recovery.