Opioid Addiction is an Illness, Not a Crime

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Oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, heroin, and fentanyl are all examples of a class of drugs called opioids. Opioid abuse has steadily increased over the past two decades. Opioids are highly addictive and once a person is addicted, it is very difficult and dangerous to stop.

Addiction is widely accepted as a form of illness, but so many times, a person struggling with addiction is treated as if they are criminals. Every imaginable demographic is susceptible to opioid addiction. People of all age groups, ethnicity and income levels are addicted to opioids. It is important to acknowledge this addiction as an illness in order help an addicted person get the help they need and put an end to opioid abuse in America.

Why Do People Abuse Opioids?

Originally, opioids were believed to be safe and have a low risk of addiction. Prescribed as oxycodone, codeine, and other variations, these drugs were used to treat a wide range of pain. If you were in an automobile accident or sprained an ankle, you were likely to be prescribed an opioid.

Over time, it became clear that people were becoming dependent on these medications for their pain. People were taking more medication than their doctors prescribed and over time they had to take higher doses to achieve the same effect. This resulted in widespread opioid addiction illness.

How Do Opioids Work?

Opioids are a class of drug that bind to opioid receptors. They block the pain signals that your body sends to the brain. These medications are still widely used for medical purposes and are safe, if used as directed. Some opioids are very powerful, such as fentanyl, while others, like VICODIN®, are used for moderate pain.

Opioids are incredibly useful in controlling pain after surgery and for people who are chronically ill. Many terminally ill patients are able to find relief using more powerful forms of opioids. Some terminally ill patients in end-life stages are commonly prescribed pain relief to be freely administered. In cancer patients, it greatly reduces their pain and provides relief throughout treatment. Higher doses may also cause sedation and can depress the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, so dosage must be monitored closely by a physician to prevent death.

Opioid Addiction is an Illness

After taking an opioid for an extended period of time, a person becomes less sensitive to the effects of the medication. If he or she attempts to stop taking the medication, they may suffer unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.These symptoms and the desire to relieve the pain can spur a person to take more and more of the medication. This is how most people enter into a cycle of opioid addiction.

Addiction is now recognized by most as a chronic, relapsing brain disease, however, more often than not, a person abusing opioids is treated more as a criminal than a person with an illness. In 2015, 1,249,025[1] people were arrested for possession of a controlled substance in the U.S. The actual number of people who actually abuse opioids and other narcotics annually is likely significantly higher than this number.

Addressing Addiction as an Illness

The only way to end the cycle of addiction is to address it with proper addiction treatment. As it is today, once a person is arrested, he or she is often released within a short time of their arrest. This allows the person to resume their opioid abuse quickly, thus prolonging the cycle of abuse.

Instead, people with addiction problems need to be treated as someone who is ill. Qualified substance abuse intervention and treatment is necessary to end the cycle of addiction permanently.



[1] http://www.drugwarfacts.org/chapter/crime_arrests#arrests

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