What is Opioid Use Disorder?

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What is Opioid Use Disorder?

Opioids are classified as natural or synthetic drugs (prescribed or otherwise) that interact with nerve cells in the brain to dull the feeling of pain. Opioids are commonly prescribed by doctors to combat pain post-surgery or to treat chronic pain.

While these drugs may successfully limit pain in the short term, opioids are proven to be one of the most addictive and widely abused classes of drugs. 

Opioids fall into two distinct categories: naturally occurring (oxycodone, codeine, and morphine) and synthetic (methadone, fentanyl, and Suboxone). Opioids certainly numb the perception of pain, but they often have extreme side effects including drowsiness, confusion, constipation, nausea, and euphoria. The “high” sensation of that blocks the pain can lead to dependence, addiction, overdoses, and even death.

Although highly addictive, opioids are widely prescribed which has led to an epidemic of opioid abuse and addiction in the United States. Up to 19% of patients prescribed opioids for pain end up abusing them. 

From 2000 to 2017, there was a 2200% increase in reported opioid deaths in the United States. Emergency room visits for suspected opioid overdoses rose nearly 30% in just one year from 2016-2017. These startling statistics led to the declaration of the opioid epidemic as a nationwide public health emergency in November 2017. 

Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Use Disorder

While many of the signs and symptoms of Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) are similar to other addictions, it has several unique characteristics. Physical dependency and withdrawal symptoms develop faster with opioids than other substances. 

In some instances, dependency can develop in as little as 4-8 weeks due to the addictive nature of opioids. Very high levels of “positive reinforcement” are produced by opioids which leads to an increased chance of dependence and addiction. 

Opioid Use Disorder is marked by one or more of the following symptoms occurring in a one year period:

  • Taking larger amounts of opioids than prescribed or taking opioids over a longer period of time than prescribed
  • Persistent desire to use opioids or an inability to stop using opioids 
  • Regular cravings or strong desire to use opioids
  • Developed tolerance, or the need to increase the number of drugs used to achieve the same effect
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms or using opioids to avoid withdrawal symptoms
  • Desire to withdraw from relationships
  • Problems fulfilling obligations at work, home, or school

If you or someone you know are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, you may have Opioid Use Disorder. Please contact us at Unity Behavioral Health immediately to see what treatment options may be available to you. 

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How Does Opioid Use Disorder Develop?

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), as many as 19% of people who are prescribed opioids end up developing an addiction to them. More than half of opioid abusers report that they have the ability to access their drug of choice through free or reduced-cost prescriptions. Many also report switching pharmacies to avoid the detection of overuse or switching doctors to gain access to new prescriptions. 

When individuals can no longer be prescribed opioids by their doctor, they will seek out the drugs on their own, often turning to “harder” substances such as heroin. In fact, it has been reported that as many as 45% of heroin users began their drug use with prescription medication. 

Similar to other addictions, genetics play a role in the likelihood that a person will develop Opioid Use Disorder. It is important to inform prescribing doctors if one of both of the patient’s parents struggled with addictive behavior or opioid use so a less addictive medication may be prescribed. 

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Types of Opioids

Opioids are broken down into two distinct categories: natural and synthetic. Natural opioids occur in nature and are extracted from poppy plants. They are often prescribed or used for their pain-masking effect. The two most commonly prescribed and abused natural opioids are morphine and codeine.

Morphine: Morphine is used to treat moderate to severe pain and is the most commonly prescribed natural opioid in the United States. It is often administered intravenously through a drip that can be controlled by the patient or is prescribed extended-release tablets. 

Codeine: Codeine is the second most commonly prescribed natural opioid and is used to treat moderate pain. It also occurs in small amounts in most cough syrups. 

Synthetic opioids are produced in a lab and are used to target the same neuro-receptors as natural opioids. They are manufactured to produce analgesia (pain relief) effects. While intentions in creating these synthetic drugs may have been good, they have become some of the most frequently abused substances on the planet. The most commonly abused synthetic opioids are fentanyl, dihydrocodeine, and methadone.

Fentanyl: Fentanyl is one of the most commonly used anesthesia medications. Recreationally, fentanyl is used regularly for its rapid-onset high and is often combined with heroin or cocaine. 

Dihydrocodeine: Dihydrocodeine is used to treat different types of pain and is twice as strong as naturally-occurring codeine. It is produced in many forms including syrups, pills, and locally injected serums.

Methadone: Methadone is a prescription synthetic opiate that is used to treat pain but is also commonly utilized to help with addiction to other opioids. 

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Whether the decision to be free from addiction has come from you or a loved one, the all important first step is drug or alcohol detox. Unity Behavioral Health offers an effective, medically supervised detox providing the best results.

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Treatment Options for Opioid Use Disorder

Opioid use has skyrocketed in the last decade, but thankfully this has lead to increased treatment options and attention toward recovery. Here at Unity Behavioral Health, we are prepared to help with many options at your disposal. 

This includes access to various forms of therapy, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), and multiple long term inpatient or outpatient options. A combination of medication (such as methadone or Suboxone) and a therapeutic approach have proven to be successful at combating Opioid Use Disorder.

Below you will find some of the most effective treatments for Opioid Use Disorder, all of which are available or can be facilitated through Unity Behavioral Health. 

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

MAT refers to the use of specific medications, such as methadone or Suboxone, to treat changes in brain chemistry that lead to or result from opioid addiction. These medications help prevent withdrawal symptoms and reduce longings for opioids. 

Most of these medications are available only in specific clinics and are effective because they do not produce the same euphoric effects (or high) as other opioids. MAT is usually combined with commonly used therapies such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). It is proven to be effective in helping people remain in treatment as well as reducing the risk of relapse and overdose. 

Key facts about the effectiveness of medication-assisted treatment:

  • MAT is effective at reducing opioid-related overdoses, opioid-related deaths, criminal drug use, and infectious disease transmission. One study done in Baltimore saw a 37% reduction in heroin-related deaths following the introduction of medications such as methadone. 
  • MAT has proven effective at increasing retention in rehabilitation programs and improving social function while in rehabilitation. Studies have shown that those receiving medication for opioid addiction were more likely to stay in treatment than those who weren’t. 
  • MAT (including the use of methadone, buprenorphine, or Suboxone) reduces the impact of drug use while pregnant on unborn babies. MAT has proven to reduce the occurrence of neonatal addiction and length of hospital stay for newborns

Medically-Supervised Detoxification

Medically-Assisted Treatment (MAT) involves the administration of detoxifying drugs (such as methadone) paired with professional medical observation. The purpose of medically-supervised detoxification is to transition a patient from severe addiction/withdrawal symptoms into treatment.  Because withdrawal symptoms can be so severe, the presence of a medical professional during this process can drastically improve results. 

It is best to undergo medically-supervised detox under professional supervision. The trained experts at Unity Behavioral Health will utilize a standard scoring system, called the Clinical Opioid Withdrawal Scale (COWS), to measure progress and the amount of medication needed. 

At UBH, we aim to make the detox process as comfortable, safe, and as painless as possible. We offer 24-hour assistance during the detox process and our professionally trained staff members are always ready to help. 

We also utilize over a dozen different therapies, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, to ensure a unique treatment approach for all of our patients. Psychiatric care is essential to helping patients achieve mental and physical wellness during the detox process. 

How Do I Get Started with Treatment?

Whether the idea comes from you or a loved one, the first step towards recovery from an opioid use disorder is seeking help. Depending on your level of addiction, that help may come in the form of simple counseling or could be as involved as medically-assisted treatment (MAT). 

At Unity Behavioral Health, we have an incredibly professional staff, first-class amenities, and caring doctors to meet you where you are. 

At Unity Behavioral Health, we work hard to provide an unparalleled treatment program that will help patients gain skills and resources for the long road ahead. If you or someone you love are in need of our world-class options, contact us today to learn how we can help you! 

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Speak to one of our experienced and caring representatives at Unity Behavioral Health to learn about how our rehab programs can help your loved one defeat addiction.


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