With opioid addiction on the rise, it’s important for people to know how to identify the signs of addiction and how to treat it. In 2016, 46 people died every day from a prescription opioid overdose.

Opioids require a prescription by a physician as a pain reliever. Reasons for prescribing opioids include surgery, suffering an injury, or experiencing chronic pain.

There are many prescribed cough syrups that contain opioids to help suppress a bad cough. Some people are not aware that their prescribed cough syrup contains an opioid. The street name for these syrups is “lean”, and they’re abused just as much as any other prescribed opioid.

Opioids vs Opiates: What’s the Difference?

A common question that we get about opioids is, are they the same as opiates?

In short, no.

Opioids are synthetic drugs that are produced by pharmaceutical companies. They can be in the form of a patch that attaches to the skin and pill or liquid form. Common opioids are hydrocodone, oxycodone, and fentanyl.

An opiate, on the other hand, is derived from the opium plant. An example of this is heroin.  

Regardless of the differences, opioids and opiates are equally dangerous.

It’s common for people to believe that opioids are safer because they’re physician prescribed. However, opioid prescriptions are on the rise leaving room for possible addiction.

New laws have been put in place to limit opioid abuse. Additionally, all prescriptions are now monitored in a national database to ensure patients are not receiving duplicate prescriptions from multiple physicians.

The Signs of Opioid Addiction

It can be hard to identify the signs of addiction if you’re not paying attention.

We may miss signs that our loved one is using drugs because we are in denial about their addiction. If you want to help them, you need to be honest with yourself.

How much is too much? Opioids come in various strengths and quantities. Someone that has been abusing opioids for years may need a higher strength or a larger quantity to experience a high. Someone that is new to abusing them may feel the effects at a very low dose.

Common symptoms of opioid addiction are drowsiness or “nodding off”, slurred speech, and itching. When crossing over from opioid abuse to addiction, you may notice an increase in depression, anger, irritability or sleeping a lot.

You may also notice things missing from your home or money from your wallet. There may have unexplained blocks of time that the user can’t account for.

Another major sign is if someone is wearing long sleeves in the summer to hide bruises or track marks on their arms from IV use.

Often, family members won’t confront the opioid abuser out of fear that it’ll trigger them to use again.

You can’t make someone decide to use, but they can certainly use you as an excuse to use. Turning your head and ignoring the problem only makes it worse and increases the chances of your loved one dying of an overdose.

As an addiction professional with 13 years of experience, I encourage you to confront your loved one about their drug use. My motto is, “I would rather you be mad at me than dead at me”.

If you suspect drug abuse with a family member, the first step you can take is to educate yourself. There are many community seminars for parents and families.

They are offered by non-profit organizations specific to your community, typically free and are offered to anyone that wants to attend. These seminars help you know what drug paraphernalia looks like and where the typical hiding places are in a bedroom.

Loved ones may not actually see their family member use drugs, but they’ll start to associate certain behaviors with drug use like lying, missing money, or disappearing at times.

No one wants to believe that their loved one is using drugs, but denial only enables the family member to keep using.

Opioid Treatment Program Options

Treatment only works if your loved one is ready to stop using. If your loved one agrees to get help, there are various levels of treatment available. The level of care varies based on the patient’s needs at the time of assessment. Time in treatment varies by level of care.

Inpatient detox may be needed if there are medical conditions or mental health issues to be addressed. Inpatient detox is considered crisis stabilization and only lasts 3-5 days.

Outpatient treatment includes individual and group counseling. For individuals with a long history of drug use, Methadone or Suboxone may be an outpatient option.

Also, outpatient treatment allows people to maintain their jobs, and family. It gives them an opportunity to practice what they learn in real-life situations.

Even though you don’t have to be inpatient to detox before receiving Methadone treatment, it’s recommended for Suboxone.

Another option is residential treatment, which is long-term and usually 30 days long. An advantage to residential treatment is being away from the environment you used in. A disadvantage is not learning how to maintain sobriety once you leave residential.

Outpatient treatment without detox, such as Methadone is becoming a preference because it allows the individual to continue working and staying with their family.

If you are unsure what level of care will be best for your family member, you can take them to be assessed at your local emergency room, a psychiatric hospital or by a physician or counselor.

What You Need to Know About Recovery

Withdrawals and cravings from opioids can be so bad, that it’s almost impossible for someone to quit on their own. Methadone and Suboxone eliminate withdrawal symptoms and cravings, but it is not the “cure-all”. It’s merely a tool that can remove the withdrawal symptoms and cravings, so that the focus can be on a program of recovery.  

In this phase, it’s important that we heal the mind, body, and spirit. Recovery means more than just not using drugs. It’s an investment in yourself.

Once the drugs are removed, you can focus on stabilizing all other areas of your life. This includes improving life skills to handle daily stressors, working on past issues that trigger you to use, improving relationships, and being a productive member of society again.

People often enter treatment with low self-esteem and self-confidence. Counseling will help you in these areas as well. You will start to trust yourself to make healthier choices.

There are many community resources available including grants and funding options to help you obtain treatment. Medicaid will also fund drug treatment.

If you or your loved one is ready to get help, please do not hesitate. A delay can mean the difference between life and death.