National Opioid Awareness Day: Looking Into Opioid Addiction, The Opioid Epidemic & How To Stop Opioid Overdoses

This awareness day, focused on opioids, exists to encourage patients to only use opioids as prescribed.


Recently, there has been an influx of news on the topic of opioids, the opioid epidemic, illicit fentanyl overdoses, and National Opioid Awareness Day, which falls on September 21. This awareness date urges people to learn more about these drugs, including the dangers of abusing legitimately prescribed opioids, the potentially fatal results of using or trying illicit opioids, and the proper way to handle opioid prescriptions. 

What are opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs that are chemicals (either natural or synthetic), which interact with nerve cells and, in turn, treat pain. Also known as narcotics, they include illegal drugs like heroin, synthetics like fentanyl, and prescriptions (both natural and semi-synthetic) like oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine. They can come as oral pills, lozenges, oral solutions, injections, IVs, patches, or suppositories. 

Why is there an opioid epidemic?
When opioids are taken, endorphins are released, causing your pain to decrease and your pleasurable mood to be given a boost. When the feeling wears off, you may begin craving it again…and again…and again. This is why it is vital to take opioids as prescribed: in the correct form, using the correct dosage, at the correct time, and for the correct length of time. 

Unfortunately, many abuse these drugs, causing addiction and even overdoses. Of the almost 92,000 deaths caused by drug overdoses in 2020, 75% of them involved opioids, and over 80% of deaths caused by opioids involved illicit synthetic versions. 

During an opioid overdose, a person may exhibit pinpoint pupils, loss of consciousness, shallow breathing, choking, and skin that is cold, blue, and pale. In this case, as stated by the Texas Attorney General, you should call 911, use naloxone (a drug available at pharmacies that can reverse the respiratory depression), and start administering CPR. 

In 2021, the American Medical Association reported a 44.4% decrease in opioid prescriptions over the past decade, as doctors began prescribing alternatives more and more. Despite that, there has still been this increase in opioid misuse, addiction, and deaths – largely due to synthetic opioids that are laced unknowingly with illicit fentanyl. Counterfeit pills can look almost identical to legitimate pharmaceutical pills, which is why you should NEVER take pills (from ANYONE) that you were not prescribed. 

What can you do?

To help combat this problem, medical professionals can ask patients about other drugs that are being taken and use prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs), which keep track of this information.

Patients should take medications only as prescribed, let their doctors know about any other drugs, and make sure they store and dispose of prescriptions properly (Learn more on this topic from the Drug Enforcement Administration). Patients with a history of addiction or substance use disorder can also talk to their doctors about alternative pain treatments.

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