Prescription Opioids Increase Risk of Overdose in Other Family Members

A new study has revealed that if any of the family members are prescribed an opioid, this can increase the risk of overdose in adolescents and young adults two-fold. These findings were published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA).

Latest statistics reveal that Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 are most likely to use addictive drugs. Nearly 130 Americans die everyday due to opioid overdose and 2.1 million people in US have an opioid use disorder. These numbers reveal a grim reality. This puts an increased pressure on public health officials to identify who is at risk and help those who are already misusing the drug.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

In an effort to better understand this addiction, the scientists from Colorado studied 72,000 individuals to understand if there was any increased risk of overdose in adolescents and young adults, if someone in their family was prescribed an opioid.

This is an important relationship to inspect as family members are a common source of getting prescription medication (usually through theft) for addicts, like opioids.

The data from these subjects reveals that the risk of overdose increases two times, compared to someone with no family member using opioids. It was also seen that if people from this age bracket were given or prescribed an opioid for personal use, they had six times the normal risk of an overdose.

Concurrent exposure to opioids, like when a family member or patients themselves are continuously being prescribed an opioid, the risk of overdose becomes 13 times higher than the normal.

Source: National Institute of Drug Abuse

The researchers suggest that people when prescribed an opioid should be counseled on possible risks of these opioids misuse by their family members. The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Understanding Opioid Addiction and Overdose

Opioid addiction has lasting social, economic and health consequences. It has been termed as a chronic disease. These opioids are basically a whole class of drugs which when taken can produce pain relief, and when taken without a medical cause can induce feelings of pleasure along with pain relief.

These drugs include fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone, codeine and morphine, among others. They also include the highly harmful drug known as heroin. Data suggests that 5% of people with opioid addiction will try heroin.

Source: CDC

Opioid are prescribed to people after they have had major surgery or have a chronic pain condition. Their medical use can often turn into casual use, which can then turn into addiction.

Opioid addiction is characterized by a compulsive and powerful urge to use these opioid medications without any medical need. It has been seen that opioids can cause addiction in some people even with appropriate use. Another issue is that many opioid prescriptions are often diverted to or misused by others.

Opioids being used for recreational use over the time can alter the brain chemistry and the person taking the opioids can develop tolerance to the drug. This can mean that the person has to take more and more amount of the drug to achieve the same effect of pleasure over time.

When a person has long history of opioid abuse and they stop using the drug, they can experience withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, diarrhea and muscle cramping. However, dependence is not the same as addiction. Not everyone who develops a dependence will feel the compulsive urge to continue using them like in the case of addiction.

Opioid addiction can lead to serious conditions like life threatening risk of overdose. When overdose occurs, opioids can cause breathing to slow down or even stop. This can lead to unconsciousness and sometimes death, if urgent medical care is not provided.

Both legal and illegal opioids can cause overdose to occur, especially if taken too much or mixed with other drugs like tranquilizers (benzodiazepines).

Source: National Institute of Drug Abuse

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