What’s in a name?

Opioid use disorder may not be a term you’re familiar with. If you watch the news or listen to others, you’ll see and hear names like opioid addiction or prescription drug abuse. Opioid use disorder is the proper medical term for the chronic condition that causes compulsive opioid seeking and use, regardless of the emotional, physical, and social harm it may have on one’s life or the lives of those around them. While opioid abuse disorder is a chronic health condition, people can and do recover.

What are opioids?

Opioids are a range of natural and synthetic chemical compounds that interact with nerve cells in the brain called opioid receptors. Everything from illegal narcotics like heroin and fentanyl to prescription painkillers such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, and morphine, are opioids. And that’s part of the problem: regular use of opioids, even as prescribed by a doctor or medical professional, can lead to dependence and opioid use disorder, no matter who you are.

How opioids rewire the brain.

Opioid use when responsibly prescribed and managed can be a safe and effective option for the treatment of pain. Opioid use does not always lead to addiction, but for some, opioids can confuse the brain into thinking opioids are needed just to feel “normal.”

Opioids possess chemical properties that change the brain’s reward, motivation, and pleasure systems.

With repeated use, even such as taking a legally prescribed painkiller, these changes permanently rewire the brain to create overwhelming cravings for more and more opioids.

This kind of exposure and the resulting decrease in ability to control impulsive decisions, turns a person’s initial use of an opioid drug (illegal or prescribed) into a long-term addiction and medical disorder—not a behavioral problem or moral failing. But individuals can and do recover from opioid use disorder.

Facts about opioid use disorder.

Individuals treated with medication long term are at 50% less risk of death from overdose.

Every 16 minutes a person in the United States dies from an opioid overdose.

Individuals treated with medication can be twice as likely to abstain from opioids than those treated without.