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The Opioid Epidemic and Young Adults

The opioid epidemic is increasingly threatening to deter the progress of many young adults. Opioids are drugs that act on the nervous system with the aim of alleviating pain. They are considered safe pain remedies when taken for a short time and under supervision by a doctor. Opioids are legally dispensed with prescriptions and are administered in the form of codeine, hydrocodone, morphine, fentanyl, and the illicit drug heroin. However, regular use of opioids, even on a doctor’s prescription, can lead to addiction.

How Opioids Cause Addiction

In the United States, more than 33,000 deaths were caused by opioid overdose in 2015. Research also shows that young adults are most likely to be affected by abuse cases and addiction. Continuous use can result in dependence, primarily because of the euphoria such drugs cause. Some individuals are more susceptible to developing addictions and abuse. Typically, opioids are taken through the oral route. Most addicts crush the pills so that they can be easily snorted or injected; a habit associated with the risk of addiction.

So how do these drugs cause addiction? Opiates work by triggering the release of the feel-good-hormones known as endorphins. Endorphins create a temporary feeling of well-being and alleviate pain while simultaneously generating a ‘good high.’ When the endorphin effects wear off, an individual may be tempted to take another dose to maintain and boost the feeling of pleasure.

Some opioid addicts subsequently seek to increase supply and may turn to illegally obtained opioids or even heroin. Illicitly obtained opioids are often laced with contaminants which have been shown to cause adverse effects in drug users. Most young adults source their drugs through illegal channels which exacerbates the risk of death.

Side Effects of Opioids

The signs and symptoms of opioid addiction are highly noticeable. Short-term effects include drowsiness, pain relief, euphoria, and sedation. Repeated use of opioids results in the slow production of endorphin hormones. The body eventually develops a tolerance, and the addict tends to crave for increased doses. Quitting abruptly at this stage leads to withdrawal symptoms which include pain. Long-term effects include drowsiness, lethargy, paranoia, respiratory depression, abdominal distention, liver damage, development of tolerance, and dependence.

Risk Factors for Heroin and Prescription Drugs Addiction

Young adults, typically 18 to 25 years are the most prominent abusers of prescription opioid pain relievers. Opiates are relatively cheap, and hence, readily available to young drug users as compared to other drugs of abuse. Most young adults abuse these drugs to get a “high,” while others do so for varied reasons; including to increase concentration, cope with problems, experiment, lose weight, sleep, social entertainment, relax, or study better.

Reports indicate that young people are more socially prone to developing an addiction. The routes of administration, as well as the length of time the prescribed opioid is used, play a key role in addiction patterns. Research shows that the odds of developing addiction increase rapidly after five days of use. Other known risk factors for misuse and addiction among young adults include:

  • Unemployment
  • Age
  • History of criminal activity
  • Mental health
  • Tobacco use
  • Stressful environments
  • Regular contact with high-risk people and environments

Despite having sufficient information on the hazards of consuming prescription pain medication, many young adults are oblivious to the similarities of such medication to heroin. Some individuals may take opioids assuming that they are not as addictive and detrimental as heroin. Essentially, young adults are not cognizant of the dangers of such highly addictive and hazardous substances. In many cases, the drugs are obtained for genuine use, but their increased availability has become a menace in a culture that is already at risk of taking drugs, consequently, putting young adults in danger.

Prevention of Addiction

In acute pain management, it is best to work with the doctor because healthcare professionals are adept on the appropriate dosage. For chronic pain, there are numerous other treatments which are less-addictive including alternative pain medication. Institutions such as colleges can institute measures that support initiatives to mitigate the use of opioids, as well as other drug uses. College students should be well educated on the dangers of opioids and addiction. Information can be disseminated through addiction-related curricula preferably incorporated in all courses.

Prudent prescription of opioids for pain relief by student health facilities and medical professionals that focus on youth is also an ideal way to mitigate abuse. Alternative pain medication can also be offered to avoid misuse. Additionally, student health centers should be equipped to provide comprehensive screening and intervention services. As a measure of dealing with students who are already addicted, student recovery communities on campus, high school, and colleges should receive adequate support from the school administration bodies. Such efforts promote trust and hope for recovery, as well as create awareness of the dangers of misuse of opioids.

Heroin Drug Rehabilitation Treatment Options

Many ask the question, “Can I give up Heroin without professional help?” Opioid-dependent young adults are often offered outpatient or residential treatment therapies that include detoxification. Opioid dependence has many co-occurring conditions including psychiatric disorders, criminal activities, sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, and hepatitis C infection. Residential treatment is a preferred option. Medication-assisted treatment for dependence has been proven to be safe and effective in improving abstinence during recovery.

Even as the United States declared cases of an opioid overdose a national emergency, to most young users, the use of opioids still has a social appeal. Impacting knowledge in these individuals may go a long way in sensitizing against use. Research has shown that addiction is usually a childhood-onset condition. Addiction takes a toll on young people as it makes them vulnerable to abuse of other drugs, mental health problems, and death from overdose.

Prevention programs such as education, prescription monitoring, and campaigns educating parents to keep away prescription opioids and dispose of old pills may do a lot to prevent the teen onset of abuse as they transition into young adults. Monitoring of opioid availability on online platforms, over the counter disbursements, and backstreet supplies may also limit access to the drugs. Moreover, evidence-based programs in addiction recovery may also be inculcated in recovery centers to deal with the addiction crisis.

At SOBA New Jersey, we believe strongly in the connection to substance abuse and mental health. Our dual diagnosis program treats these co-occurring disorders concurrently.