The Dangerous Opiate Abuse Side Effects

Unmasking the dangerous side effects of opiate abuse: risks, consequences, and resources for support. Stay informed and take action.

April 11, 2024

Understanding Opiate Abuse

Opiate abuse is a pressing issue affecting individuals across various demographics. By gaining a deeper understanding of this problem, we can shed light on the rise in substance helpline calls and the psychological effects of opioid use.

Rise in Substance Helpline Calls

The increase in opiate abuse has led to a surge in calls to substance helplines. In 2020, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline received 833,598 calls, which marked a significant 27% increase from the previous year SAMHSA. This rise in helpline calls highlights the growing need for assistance and support for individuals struggling with opiate abuse.

Psychological Effects of Opioid Use

Opioid use not only poses physical risks but also has profound psychological effects on individuals. Patients with chronic noncancer pain who take strong opioids have reported experiencing various psychological effects. These effects include:

  • Feeling relaxed (84%)
  • Fatigue (76%)
  • Dizziness (57%)
  • Listlessness (37%)
  • Difficulty with mental activities (23%)
  • Dulled emotions (17%)
  • Poor memory (17%)

These findings highlight the wide range of psychological symptoms that can arise from opioid use. It is important to recognize that these effects extend beyond the well-known physical side effects of opioids. The psychological impact can significantly impact an individual's overall well-being and quality of life.

Understanding the rise in substance helpline calls and the psychological effects of opioid use is crucial in addressing the dangers of opiate abuse. By recognizing the scope of the problem and its impact on individuals, we can work towards providing the necessary support and resources to those affected by this issue.

Risks and Dangers

Opioid abuse poses significant risks and dangers that can have severe consequences on an individual's health and well-being. Understanding these risks is crucial in addressing the dangerous side effects associated with opiate abuse.

Opioid Addiction and Overuse

Opioids, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and fentanyl, among others, carry a substantial risk of addiction and overuse, which can lead to misuse, addiction, overdose, and even death. Certain individuals with healthcare conditions or characteristics may be at higher risk of opioid misuse, potentially leading to overdose.

Consequences of Opioid Misuse

The consequences of opioid misuse can be devastating. Overdose is a significant risk, and the concomitant use of certain medications with opioids, unless advised by a healthcare provider, can lead to severe side effects, including severe drowsiness, decreased awareness, breathing problems, coma, or even death. Opioids may also interact with other medications, potentially increasing the risk of overdose, arrhythmias, or seizures. It is essential to consult healthcare providers and FDA information before taking other medications alongside opioids.

The long-term effects of opioid addiction can also have a profound impact on an individual's health. Chronic opioid use can lead to a range of physical and psychological consequences, including respiratory depression, gastrointestinal problems, hormonal imbalances, immune system dysfunction, increased sensitivity to pain, and impaired cognitive function.

Moreover, older adults are particularly vulnerable to the risks of opioid misuse. Older women taking opioids have a twofold increased risk of fractures compared to women with chronic pain not taking opioids, and the risk appears to increase directly with opioid dose. This highlights the importance of careful prescribing and monitoring of opioid use in older adults to prevent adverse events.

Understanding the risks and dangers associated with opioid abuse is crucial in addressing this growing public health concern. Education, prevention programs, and access to appropriate resources and support are vital in mitigating the harmful effects of opioid misuse and promoting overall well-being.

Impact on Families

Opiate abuse not only affects the individual struggling with addiction but also has a profound impact on their families. The following sections will explore the effects of opiate abuse on children of parents with substance use disorders (SUD) and the risks these children may face.

Children of Parents with SUD

Children living in homes with a parent or parents who have a substance use disorder are at an increased risk of developing substance use problems themselves. Growing up in an environment where addiction is present can have long-lasting effects on a child's physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.

Studies have shown that children affected by parental substance abuse are at higher risk for nearly every childhood disorder listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), including eating disorders, behavior disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance use disorders. The exposure to substance abuse can contribute to the development of these disorders and create a cycle of addiction within families.

Furthermore, parental substance abuse can lead to unexcused absences and learning problems in children, as parents may be less available to provide assistance with homework and monitor school performance. The instability and chaos associated with addiction can disrupt a child's daily routine, impacting their educational progress and overall academic success.

Risks for Children of Substance Abusers

Children of parents with a substance use disorder face various risks and challenges in their lives. Research shows that parents with a SUD are three times more likely to physically or sexually abuse their child, which can lead to negative outcomes such as increased rates of juvenile arrest and violent crime among these children. The trauma experienced as a result of parental substance abuse can have long-term consequences on a child's mental and emotional well-being.

In addition, parents and grandparents often engage in enabling behaviors that protect the individual with the substance use disorder from experiencing the consequences of their actions, which can perpetuate the cycle of addiction. Enabling behaviors may include covering up for the addicted individual, providing financial support despite knowing it may be used for substance abuse, or minimizing the severity of the problem. These behaviors can create an unhealthy dynamic within the family and hinder the recovery process.

It is essential to recognize the impact of opiate abuse on families, particularly on children. Providing support and resources for both the individuals struggling with addiction and their families is crucial in breaking the cycle and promoting healing. By addressing the underlying issues and implementing interventions, we can strive to create a healthier and safer environment for families affected by opiate abuse.

Gender Disparities

When it comes to opioid use, there are notable gender disparities in the risks and prescription trends. Women who engage in opioid use face unique challenges and increased risks compared to men. Let's explore these gender disparities in more detail.

Risks of Opioid Use for Women

Long-term opioid use exposes women to various risks, including endocrinopathy, reduced fertility, neonatal risks, and a higher risk for polypharmacy, cardiac risks, poisoning, and unintentional overdose. The risks women face from opioid use can vary depending on age and psychosocial factors, which may influence the bidirectional relationship between opioid use and psychosocial factors.

One contributing factor to these risks is that women are more likely than men to have chronic pain conditions and be treated with opioids. In fact, women may receive higher doses of opioids compared to men, despite limited evidence supporting the long-term benefits of this pain treatment approach.

Prescription Trends in Women

Prescription trends for opioids in women have shown an alarming increase across different age groups. One population-based study found that the prevalence of opioid prescriptions in women has been rising at a similar or even greater rate than in men. In fact, as many as 8-9% of women aged 65 and older are on long-term opioid therapy.

The higher prescription rates for women have also been associated with more clinic visits, emergency department visits, and hospital stays compared to men. This suggests either poorer overall health or a greater tendency to seek healthcare among women taking opioids. Interestingly, despite more clinic visits, women aged 35-65 on opioid therapy were less likely to undergo Pap cervical cancer screenings compared to non-opioid women, and women older than 50 years were less likely to undergo colorectal cancer screening.

Another concerning finding is that older women taking opioids have a twofold increased risk of fractures compared to women with chronic pain who do not take opioids. This risk appears to be directly related to the opioid dosage, highlighting the importance of cautious prescribing practices for older women.

These gender disparities in opioid use and prescription trends underscore the need for a gender-sensitive approach to pain management and opioid prescribing. Healthcare providers should carefully evaluate the risks and benefits of opioid therapy for women, considering their unique physiological and psychosocial factors. Additionally, comprehensive education and awareness programs can play a crucial role in addressing these disparities and promoting safer opioid use among women.

Resources and Support

When facing the dangerous side effects of opiate abuse, it is crucial to seek appropriate resources and support. There are various organizations and programs available to assist individuals struggling with substance use disorders. In Canada, Health Canada provides valuable assistance, and community-based prevention programs are also accessible.

Health Canada Assistance

Health Canada offers a range of resources to help individuals in need of support for substance use. Their services include overdose prevention and tobacco cessation programs, which are accessible across Canada at any time [5]. In addition, Health Canada provides a list of pharmacies that carry naloxone, an overdose-reversing medication, on their resources page. Naloxone can be obtained from these pharmacies to help prevent opioid-related overdoses.

To learn more about naloxone and its usage, Health Canada recommends visiting the Canadian Mental Health Association's Naloxone 101 Toolkit. This toolkit provides information on how to use a naloxone kit, its importance, when to use it, and where to obtain one for free. It is crucial to have access to naloxone, as it can save lives in the event of an opioid overdose.

Furthermore, Health Canada recognizes the unique needs of First Nation, Inuit, or Métis individuals facing substance use issues. Culturally sensitive resources are available, such as the National Native Alcohol and Drug Abuse Program and the National Youth Solvent Abuse Program, to provide tailored support.

Community-Based Prevention Programs

Community-based prevention programs play a vital role in addressing substance use issues. These programs can be accessed through community nursing stations, health centers, band councils, or local regional offices [5]. These initiatives aim to educate and support individuals, families, and communities in preventing substance use and minimizing its harmful effects.

By engaging with community-based prevention programs, individuals can benefit from various resources, including counseling services, educational materials, and support groups. These programs often offer a holistic approach, addressing not only the physical aspects of substance abuse but also the emotional and social factors that contribute to addictive behaviors.

It is important for individuals struggling with opiate abuse to utilize the available resources and support systems. Health Canada's assistance and community-based prevention programs offer valuable guidance and tools to promote recovery and improve overall well-being. Seeking help from these resources can make a significant difference in overcoming the dangerous side effects of opiate abuse.

Health Effects

Opiate abuse can have significant and dangerous health effects, both in the long term and for specific populations. Understanding these effects is crucial in raising awareness about the risks associated with opioid misuse.

Long-Term Effects of Opioid Addiction

Long-term opioid addiction can have severe consequences on both physical and mental health. Prolonged use of prescription opioids can lead to the development of tolerance, wherein higher or more frequent doses are needed to achieve the desired effects. This can perpetuate a cycle of escalating use and increase the risk of overdose.

The chronic use of opioids also causes changes in the brain, leading to drug dependence. Neurons adapt to function only in the presence of the drug, making it difficult for individuals to stop using without experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Drug addiction, characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behavior despite negative consequences, is a chronic disease that affects various aspects of a person's life, including physical and mental well-being [6].

Opioid misuse can have profound long-term psychological and neurological effects. Slowed breathing, a common side effect of opioid use, can cause hypoxia, leading to permanent brain damage, coma, or even death. Researchers continue to study the long-term effects of opioid addiction on the brain to better understand the impact of prolonged drug use.

Risks of Opioid Misuse for Older Adults

Older adults are particularly vulnerable to the risks associated with opioid misuse. The presence of multiple prescriptions and chronic diseases increases the likelihood of accidental misuse or abuse of opioid medications. This can result in drug interactions and slowed metabolism, heightening the risk of adverse effects.

Furthermore, older adults may be more susceptible to impaired judgment from drug use, leading to risky behaviors such as sharing drug injection equipment or engaging in unprotected sex. These behaviors increase the risk of contracting infectious diseases like HIV. Additionally, older adults may experience age-related changes in the body's ability to process opioids, making them more susceptible to adverse reactions and overdose.

It is crucial to raise awareness about the specific risks faced by older adults and ensure that healthcare providers take into account age-related factors when prescribing opioids. Close monitoring, education, and alternative pain management strategies can help mitigate the risks associated with opioid misuse in this population.

By understanding the long-term effects of opioid addiction and the specific risks faced by older adults, we can work towards preventing and addressing the dangerous side effects of opiate abuse. Education, awareness, and access to appropriate resources and support are vital in combating the opioid crisis and promoting the well-being of individuals affected by opioid misuse.


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