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Opioids: The Truth About Prescription Drug Abuse

prescription bottles and pills

steve cole images/iStock

In this Article:

  • Prescription drugs can be as dangerous and harmful as street drugs if abused or misused.
  • Opioid addiction can lead to using other drugs, such as heroine.
  • Help is available if you think you are addicted to prescription drugs.

Some believe that prescribed medicine is safer than street drugs. But if abused or misused, prescription drugs can be just as dangerous and deadly.

In 2015, more than 33,000 people died from opioid overdose and at least half of those deaths involved prescription drugs.

What are Opioids?

Opioids are drugs that act on the nervous system to reduce pain. Many are prescribed by a doctor or dentist, but heroin, a street drug, is also an opioid. The most commonly prescribed opioids are Vicodin, OxyContin, codeine, morphine, methadone, and fentanyl.

Opioids work by flooding the brain’s pleasure centers with dopamine—a feel-good hormone that gives a feeling of intense happiness. But, side effects may include blackouts, nausea, forgetfulness, and lack of sleep.

Misuse or abuse of opioids can lead to many health risks. In some cases, opioids can slow your breathing or even stop your breathing in the case of an overdose. It can also lead to permanent damage to the neural pathways in the brain, as well as a weakened immune system.

Opioid Addiction Can Lead to Heroin Use

Around 80 percent of new heroin users began by abusing prescription drugs. Heroin can result in a number of serious health conditions, such as fatal overdose, damage to the brain, and other health risks. Heroin abuse is also linked to HIV, hepatitis, and other sexually transmitted diseases shared through dirty drug equipment.

Steps to Help Prevent Addiction

The first step is to only use medication that is prescribed to you. It’s not safe to self-medicate without a medical health professional’s guidance.

Follow the doctor’s instructions closely, including:

  • Take only the prescribed dosage as directed.
  • Know the drug interactions and side effects.
  • Stop using the drug if you have any bad reactions.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol while taking the drug.
  • Contact the doctor or dentist who prescribed them right away if you have concerns or questions.

Tell a family member, spouse, or trusted friend that you are taking opioids. They can help keep you on track, making sure you only take it as much and as long as directed.

Always get rid of any leftover medication once you are done using it. Many communities offer drop boxes at hospitals, pharmacies, and law enforcement agencies. Find one in your area. If your community doesn’t have a take-back program, contact your law enforcement agency or city/county government office to find out if you can throw them in the trash.

Some medications can be flushed down the toilet. See if your medication qualifies.

How to Find Help for Your Addiction

If you think you might be addicted to opioids, you can take this anonymous prescription drug abuse test.

If you are struggling with opioid abuse or misuse, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) can help. To find treatment in your area, use SAMHSA’s behavioral health treatment services locator. You can also call SAMHSA’s free, confidential helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357) for assistance 24/7.

Know that you are not alone. You can overcome your addiction. Reach out to your Medical Readiness NCO or medical health professional. You can also speak with a chaplain in your area to get started on your path to recovery.

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