LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Opioid addiction has slithered into our communities and snared so many struggling to overcome substance abuse. Chances are someone in your circle may be suffering, living with addiction.
The FOCUS investigative team has been looking into how the community has been forever changed by opioid use. This is a short summary of key terms and phrases we hope will help give context for our reports.
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Where do opioids come from?
Opioids come from opiates - the natural substance in morphine and codeine used to treat pain.
Opiates come from opium. Before a poppy flower blooms, a gum is collected from the bud. The gum substance sometimes called 'poppy tears' is processed in labs near the fields.
The origin of heroin from poppy flowers can be traced back to Asia and Latin America.
How do people become dependent on opioids?
After a short period of time, sometimes only a few doses, users may become dependent and experience physical withdraw when they are not using opioids. People who have experienced withdraw describe it like the flu but worse: body aches, sweats, throwing up and diarrhea.
People battling opioid addiction spiral into a cycle of substance abuse to avoid getting 'dope sick'. Over time they also develop a tolerance and need more and more of the drug to feel the effects — they chase the high searching for more potent potions.
What is a synthetic opioid?
Chemically-created opioids are called synthetic opioids. Heroin, created from morphine, is a semi-synthetic opioid.
More recently, other synthetic forms of opioids have hit the streets: tramadol, fentanyl, and carfentanyl. These are some of the strongest opioids. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times the strength of morphine and is legitimately prescribed to treat severe pain, for example, cancer patients.
Drug dealers may mix in these other synthetic opioids to increase the strength of their product and increase their profits. These homemade labs have little control over the potency of each dose — a dose with the danger of death from just a single use.
Can an overdose be reversed?
The Center for Disease Control said deaths from synthetic opioids are radically rising.
First responders, parents and even people in addiction are arming themselves with Naloxone, an overdose antidote commonly referred to as Narcan. It is a nasal spray that brings people back from the dead.
What is the first step in treatment?
When someone decides to quit, they undergo detox which allows all the substances to leave the body.
After a person who has developed a tolerance and dependency quit the detox process will send them into withdraw. The symptoms of withdraw and detox from opioids are so severe many people are fearful and resist getting help in order to avoid getting ‘dope sick’.
However, some treatment facilities will prescribe medication to ease the symptoms of withdraw.
What substances are used in opioid addiction recovery?
Methadone and Suboxone are also synthetic opioids but are used to treat addiction. They are used to reduce cravings as well as the pain of withdrawing however they also have a street value and can also be addictive.
After detox, those in recovery may continue to use methadone similar to how someone with diabetes uses insulin. They may live productive lives but could remain dependent on the substance.
Are there other substances used in treatment?
Vivitrol is another substance that can be prescribed to a patient during treatment. In most cases, Vivitrol is injected once a month but can only be used after a patient detoxes.
It blocks opioid receptors helping patients by preventing relapsing into opioid dependency.
Opioid abuse is a continuing crisis with no end in sight. New drugs to combat addiction are being studied and the debate on the use and effectiveness is ongoing.
If you or someone you know is facing mental or substance use disorders contact the national hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
You can also find more local resources at the bottom of the article here.