An Opioid is a chemical compound that works by binding to specific opioid receptors in the brain, the central and peripheral nervous system, the gastrointestinal tract, and other tissues in the body. The opioid, which is derived from natural alkaloids found in the resin of the opium poppy, is among the oldest and most widely used substances in history. The pain relieving and euphoric effects of opioids were well known to, and used by, Sumerians (4000 BC) and Egyptians (2000 BC). International awareness of opioid abuse came early in the 20th century when President Theodore Roosevelt convinced the Shanghai Opium Commission in 1909 to aid the Chinese empire in stamping out opioid addiction. Since then, several government acts have been passed to limit the prescription, sale, and use of opioids as a measure to address opioid abuse and opioid addiction.
Opioids such as hydrocodone (vicodin,) oxycodone (oxycontin) and hydromorphone (dilaudid) are typically prescribed by a medical doctor to treat pain following a physical injury or surgery. Extended use of these medications inevitably leads to opioid abuse, in which the user must consume higher doses in order to achieve the desired effect. Used as a painkiller, the analgesic effects of opioid use include a decrease in perception and reaction to pain, an increased pain tolerance, and euphoria. The side effects of opioid use include sedation, constipation, cough suppression, and respiratory depression. Ongoing opioid abuse can lead to physical and psychological dependence. Abrupt discontinuation can lead to withdrawal symptoms, which include anxiety, loss of appetite and weight, nausea; restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia; diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps (“cold turkey”), and involuntary leg movements. Detoxing from opioids is most successful with the aid of medical care and observation.
The first step in treating opioid abuse and addiction is the application of a medical detoxification. Under the care of a physician, opioid users are given prescription medications, such as Suboxone or Subutex, in order to ease the discomfort of acute withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, exercise and other forms of physical therapy can speed the detox process along. Patients in an opioid detox facility are closely monitored until all vital signs have returned to normal, usually at the point when the opioids have left the body.
In addition to detox, opioid users are encouraged to check into a rehabilitation center. Patients can live on premises at a residential facility in which opioid abuse is addressed with therapy, relapse prevention education, and twelve-step meetings. Continued care may be sought through outpatient programs and residences at sober living houses. Sober living houses support a healthy, sober lifestyle for indefinite measures of time and act as a continuation of physical and psychological rehabilitation for opioid abuse; usually, the longer one stays in a sober living house the better chances one has of beating addiction into remission and staying clean and sober.