What are Opioids?
Opioids are morphine-like drugs used commonly for pain relief. They are very effective for short-term moderate-to-severe pain due to surgery or injury, and can be crucial for cancer pain. However, opioids have been increasingly prescribed for other types of pain. About half of the US opioid market is chronic, non-cancer pain including back, osteoarthritis, and neuropathic pain. Opioids are highly addictive, and as many as one in four patients receiving long-term opioid therapy in a primary care setting struggles with opioid use disorder. In 2014, nearly two million Americans either abused or were dependent on prescription opioid pain relievers. The epidemic has stretched across the country and continues to grow exponentially worse.
What Are the Most Common Prescribed Opioids?
- MS Contin (morphine sulfate)
- Oxycontin (oxycodone)
- Percocet (oxycodone and acetaminophen)
- Combunox (ibuprofen and oxycodone)
- Vicodin (hydrocodone with acetaminophen)
- Vicoprofen (hydrocodone with ibuprofen)
- Demerol (meperidine/pethidine)
- Dilaudid, Exalgo (hydromorphone)
- Duragesic, Actig, Fentora, Subsys, Abstral (fentanyl)
- Opana (oxymorphone)
- Tylenol 3, Tylenol 4 (codeine with acetaminophen)
- Ultracet (tramadol and acetaminophen)
How Are Women Affected by Opioids?
Women make up 65 percent of total opioid prescriptions and 40 percent more women than men become persistent opioid users following surgery. The most common surgeries for women who become newly persistent opioid patients are colectomy, rotator cuff, and hysterectomy. Opioid prescription rates are substantially higher among Medicaid patients than among privately insured patients. One study revealed that 40 percent of Medicaid enrollees with opioid prescriptions had at least one indicator of potentially inappropriate use. Women make up nearly 70 percent of adults on Medicaid.
People of color are far less likely to be prescribed opioids, likely due to prescriber bias. However, American Indian or Alaska Native women are at the greatest risk of dying from a prescription opioid overdose. From 2003 to 2012, heroin use rate doubled for women. (However, this is still less than half of the rate of men.)
Opioids can cause low oxygen in the blood and, especially when used in combination with alcohol or other depressants such as Xanax or Valium, they can cause breathing to stop altogether. Nearly 80 percent of those who died from an opioid-related overdose in 2016 also had another drug or alcohol in their system.
Opioid use can result in physical tolerance and opioid use disorder. Although tolerance to pain relief can occur, people don’t become tolerant to adverse effects. People who take higher doses are more likely to overdose.
Physical dependence can occur within weeks. Withdrawal symptoms can feel like the flu and include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps, and involuntary leg movements.