Is the Opioid Epidemic Spreading to the UK?
The Rise in Opioid Addiction
The US has had to cope with an opioid epidemic since the 1990s, seeing substantial increases in opioid use and misuse – of opioids, especially for morphine and codeine. There has also been a coinciding rise in the number of opioid-related deaths.
The present epidemic in the US is thought to have begun because doctors were overprescribing opioids for pain relief. Now, there are concerns that the problem is spreading to other nations – including the UK.
The dangers of rising prescription of opioid drugs
There is good evidence from The British Journal of General Practice to suggest that opioids are effective at relieving pain in the short term. But the benefits for more than 12 weeks’ treatment is under question. Despite the high numbers of patients who take them for a more extended period, even years, there is clear evidence that they cause extensive and potentially serious harm when taken long term.
Clearer guidelines for doctors and screening processes could help reduce the harm caused by opioids. But we must also consider the causes of long-term pain, which drives their use. Most importantly, these include disadvantaged backgrounds and the ageing population of our society. Further investment to address this needs to happen, or the opioid epidemic is set to spread to other countries including the UK.
The dangers of an opioid epidemic
The latest figures show the number of people dying from opioid-related drug misuse has reached a record high in England and Wales. About 3,700 people died in 2016 because of drug misuse.
More than 2,000 of these deaths involved an opioid, according to The Office For National Statistics (ONS).
However, these figures also include deaths from heroin, which is made from morphine.
What are opioids
Opioids and opiates are very powerful narcotics, and that makes them very addictive. Here are some basics about opioids and opiate addiction.
Deriving from the opium poppy, opiates are a narcotic. It is mainly used in prescription medication form to treat moderate to severe pain. The medications fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and codeine are opioids. Street drugs that are opiates are opium and heroin.
When used, opioids provide pain relief, create relaxation, and a feeling of mild euphoria. It also slows respiration and heart rate, can cause cognitive problems, and bowel obstruction. These medications are just for short-term use.
The rise in the production of opiates
Worldwide, the World Health Organization has seen a significant increase in the production of opiates, followed by the rise in the use and misuse of them. In the U.S. alone it is estimated that 115 people die each day from opioid abuse. Two million in the U.S. are addicted to prescription pain meds, causing an opioid epidemic. And those that cannot get any more pain meds from their physician, or worse, have such a tolerance to the meds that they no longer have any impact, will often escalate to shooting heroin to try to get that same high. What starts as getting help for back pain ends up with people shooting heroin. The drug fentanyl has greatly contributed to the havoc caused by the opioid epidemic.
The symptoms of opioid addiction
Using the DSM-5, the manual for mental health disorders by the American Psychiatric Association, a substance use disorder will be diagnosed by:
- Using for longer than you should or want to.
- Difficulty or inability to stop using.
- Cravings when not using.
- Spending a lot of time using, recovering from use, or trying to get opiates.
- Work, school or other areas will suffer from a worse performance.
- Using causes interpersonal problems with others in your life.
- Giving up social activities to use.
- Using substances when it is risky to do so, like getting high and driving.
- Continuing to use despite physical problems and damage to health.
- When tolerance to the drug builds up, a person will need to take more of the drug to get the same effect
- Withdrawals happen when not using.
If you or a loved one have two or more of the symptoms above, that is enough for a diagnosis of substance abuse. The more symptoms, the more severe the addiction.
How can you tell if someone has an opioid abuse problem
If someone is abusing opiates, there are some specific warning signs that you can look for, that may indicate an opioid abuse problem. They include:
- Being drowsy, sluggish, or falling asleep at inappropriate times.
- Visiting multiple doctors or hospitals, for pains and strange ailments with no specific diagnosis or treatment plan.
- Needle marks or sunken veins on arms, legs, or other parts of the body.
- Pupils will be small or “pinpoint.”
- Confusion, difficulty remembering events or no focus.
The Treatment of opioid addiction
While these may sound like difficult symptoms to treat, there is hope. Opiate detox, addiction treatment and ongoing support in the form of 12-step groups or other support groups is the way forward. Many people will go on to live healthy lives in recovery. With a variety of rehab treatment programmes for opioid addiction to help you, hope and help are available. Call our compassionate and professional staff now to answer your questions and to start the process.