Opioid Use Disorder
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Opioid Use Disorder Explained
Opioids – which include medicines such as codeine, morphine and oxycodone, as well as infamous illegal drugs such as heroin – are some of the most addictive substances in the world, with thousands of people dying each year as a result of their abuse. However, treatment is available for those able to ask for it.
What is Opioid Use Disorder?
Opioid use disorder is a medical condition in which the use of opioids causes a clinically significant impairment and/or distress to the individual concerned.
Technically, opioids are substances which act upon opioid receptors in the brain to produce morphine-like effects. The opioid class includes opiates, referring to drugs derived from opium, including morphine and heroin; and various synthetic and semisynthetic drugs which act in the same way but which do not necessarily contain any products actually derived from extracts from the opium poppy.
Opioids are primarily used medically for pain relief, and also for suppressing coughs, itchy throats and diarrhoea; they may be used in the treatment of opioid addiction and reversing opioid overdose, while some extremely strong opioids (including carfentanil) are used in veterinary medicine.
Both (prescription) opioids and highly illegal drugs such as heroin are also used recreationally for their potent euphoriceffects, with individuals initially prescribed opioids for pain relief often turning to heroin (or illegally obtained prescription opioids) once tolerance and dependence have taken hold.
Although opioid addiction has been a recognised phenomenon for centuries, with opium abuse specifically, and subsequently morphine and heroin abuse, spreading across the world from the 19th century onwards, over the last couple of decades parts of the Western world (especially the United States and Canada) have experienced a so-called “opioid epidemic” or “opioid crisis”, with 49,000 people dying from opioid overdoses in 2017 in the USA alone; opioid overdose is now the leading killer of Americans under 50.