Late­ly, there’s been a big focus on America’s opi­oid addic­tion in the news. Whether it’s news on the abuse of the drug or it’s infor­ma­tion shar­ing on how the drug works, Amer­i­cans are talk­ing about this sub­ject reg­u­lar­ly. We want to help edu­cate you on this hot topic.

Opi­oids are made from the opi­um pop­py plant.  Opi­um has been around since 3,400 BC and it was first ref­er­enced as being cul­ti­vat­ed in South­west Asia. The drug trav­eled the Silk Road from the Mediter­ranean to Asia to Chi­na. Since then, the drug has gained pop­u­lar­i­ty for pain relief but it also has gained noto­ri­ety as an abused drug. Mor­phine, Codeine, and Hero­in are all derived from the opi­um pop­py and are all high­ly addic­tive drugs that are abused all around the world. As the demand for these drugs has increased, so has the pro­duc­tion.  From 2016 to 2017, the area under opi­um pop­py cul­ti­va­tion in Afghanistan increased by 63 per­cent. In 2016, it killed some 64,000 Amer­i­cans, more than dou­ble the num­ber in 2005.

We can see that the dan­ger from this drug is grow­ing rapid­ly. What can we do to rec­og­nize poten­tial abuse prob­lems and to get help? Here are some facts about opi­oid addiction:

  • How do they work? Opi­oids attach to pain recep­tors in your brain, spinal cord, and oth­er areas that rec­og­nize pain sig­nals. As they attach to the recep­tors, it reduces the send­ing of pain mes­sages to the brain and there­fore reduces the feel­ings of pain in your body.
  • Short-act­ing opi­ates are typ­i­cal­ly pre­scribed for injuries and only for a few days. They take 15–30 min­utes for pain relief to begin and this relief lasts for 3–4 hours. Long-act­ing opi­ates are pre­scribed for mod­er­ate to severe pain and are used over a long peri­od of time. Relief typ­i­cal­ly lasts for 8–12 hours and can be used along­side a short-act­ing drug for break­through pain.
  • Depen­dence is com­mon with long-term use of an opi­ate. This means that the patient needs to take more of and high­er dos­es of the med­i­cine to get the same pain reliev­ing effect. This does not nec­es­sar­i­ly mean the patient is addict­ed. Addic­tion is the abuse of the drug by tak­ing it in an unpre­scribed way—like crush­ing tablets or using intravenously.
  • Amer­i­cans account for less than 5% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, but take 80% of the world’s opi­oid About 5% of the peo­ple who take opi­ates become addict­ed to the drug.
  • Help is avail­able through many chan­nels from pri­vate recov­ery cen­ters to insur­ance providers. The Sub­stance Abuse and Men­tal Health Ser­vices Admin­is­tra­tion helpline is 1–800-662-HELP. This line is con­fi­den­tial, free, and avail­able 24-hours a day and 7 days a week. Fam­i­ly and friends may also call this num­ber for resources for help. Addi­tion­al resources can be found at

Make sure you are edu­cat­ed about the dan­gers of opi­oid abuse. But, don’t be dis­cour­aged and think that the abuse is incur­able! There are many resources that can be used to break the addic­tion cycle and can make real change in the lives of its vic­tims. Ask for help and offer help.