This country’s epidemic of drug overdose deaths is largely fueled by opioids, a majority of which continue to be prescribed for chronic pain. The treatment of pain in patients is complex for several reasons. There is a sense of urgency among patients suffering from pain issues, and there are a limited number of effective pain treatment options. Because opioid medications are effective for the management of acute pain, an overreliance on these drugs has developed, which has resulted in some tragic consequences.

More than 30 percent of Americans report having some kind of chronic or acute pain. Because chronic pain can be so disabling, it is no surprise that opiate pain relievers are now the most prescribed drugs in the U.S. Unfortunately, prescribing and using these drugs can have unintended results. A study released in the Annals of Internal Medicine finds that pain relief is the most reported reason for the use and misuse of opioids.

Opioid Misuse for Pain Relief

The recent study was based on data collected from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The survey results concluded that more than one-third of U.S. adults, nearly 92 million people, used prescription opioid medication within the last year. Of those, approximately 11.5 million admitted to misusing the drugs and 1.9 million reported having an opioid use disorder.

Of the respondents that admitted to misusing opioid pain medication, a majority (63.4 percent) reported that they did so to relieve physical pain. Approximately 41 percent report using the drugs without a prescription. Misuse of pain medication is defined as taking a drug without a prescription, for a condition other than what the drug was prescribed, or taking more than a recommended dose.

How Medication Misuse Can Lead to Addiction

It is a common misconception that medication taken for a legitimate pain issue will not lead to addiction. In fact, those with chronic pain and other acute pain conditions become addicted to pain medication daily, even when the medicine is initially taken as prescribed. Because of the nature of opioid pain medications, there is a real danger of addiction due to their actions on the body and mind. Medication misuse poses an even greater danger of an opioid addiction taking place.

When a person takes an opioid pain medication, most of its effect is on the brain’s mu-opioid receptors. These are densely concentrated areas of the brain that regulate pain as well as control the reward regions that deal with pleasure and a sense of well-being.  Studies show that there is a type of Pavlovian conditioning and response that can develop with opioid use, which creates learned associations between pain, drug use for relief, and even some pleasurable effects. When a person begins taking more of a drug than prescribed, taking drugs more frequently than recommended, or misusing medication in other ways, tolerance and addiction are the likely outcome.

Substance Abuse Treatment for Opioid Addiction

Opioid addiction is a dangerous and deadly disease. No one intentionally sets out to become addicted to these drugs, but once addiction sets in, the results can be life-changing. The death rates from opioid overdoses in the U.S. have gone up fourfold in just the past 15 years. If you or a loved one are addicted to prescription pain medication or heroin, opiate detox and treatment is available.

The Recovery Village offers personalized substance abuse treatment that begins with detox and then transitions to drug rehab. Medication-assisted detox for opioid addiction will help the body and mind deal with the physiological and psychological changes associated with drug withdrawal. A comprehensive substance abuse treatment program includes group and individual therapy, alternative therapies, education, and strategies for success after treatment.

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