Opioid Dependence

Opioid Dependence

Opioid Dependence

Opioid use disorder is a dependence on the use of opioids that leads to great distress and impairment. Many people begin taking them for pain management and then keep increasing the dose to get the same level of pain reduction, becoming reliant on the destructive doses in as few as 1 to 8 weeks. Misuse can quickly lead to physical and mental disability and death, depending on the potency of the opioid used.

Opioids are substances that mainly act on pain receptors in the central and peripheral nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract. These receptors facilitate both the mind-changing and bodily effects of opioids.

Opioids are mostly prescribed to provide pain relief. They can also be prescribed to treat diarrhea or induce cough suppression, but they are frequently used recreationally for their euphoric effects. They can be ingested orally, injected, or snorted. Opioids include substances such as fentanyl, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. Side effects of opioids may include itchiness, sedation, nausea, respiratory depression, constipation, and intense feelings of happiness.


According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were approximately 47,000 prescription or opioid-related overdose deaths in the United States in 2018 — 194% higher than deaths from heroin use, and 213% higher than deaths from prescription painkillers. The opioid crisis was declared a nationwide public health emergency in late 2017.

Long-term opioid use occurs in approximately 4% of people following their use for trauma, surgery-related pain, or cancer care. Onset is often in young adulthood, and males are affected more often than females.

US prevention measures to address the opioid crisis include monitoring prescriptions through insurance claims, pharmacy prescriptions, and licensed healthcare practices; and educating providers, patients, and the public about the risks of misuse of prescribed opioids.