The Opiate Overdose Epidemic: Is Someone You Know at Risk?

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Today’s opiate overdose epidemic has swelled considerably since its beginnings, with more and more people succumbing to the addictive effects of opiates each year. Opiate overdose rates not only reflect the large number of people abusing these drugs, but also demonstrate how opiates can quickly overpower the mind and the body.

Without needed treatment help, someone abusing opiates on a regular basis will gradually lose touch with friends and loved ones as the drug’s effects take on increasing importance in his or her life. These changes in a person’s lifestyle make for prime conditions for opiate overdose events to take place. Understanding how opiates affect the brain and body can help in determining whether an abuse or addiction problem requires treatment help.

Opiate Overdose Rates

opiate overdose risk

People suffering from mental illness are more likely to overdose on opiates.

With the advent of new strains of prescription pain medications, opiate overdose rates have seen considerable increases since the start of the 21st century. According to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, opiate overdose events accounted for 17,000 deaths in 2011.

Overall, since 1999, overdose death rates involving prescription pain medications have seen a 265 percent increase among men and a 400 percent increase among women. Likewise, opiate overdose events involving heroin have also seen a steady increase over the past decade with heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupling between the years 2002 and 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

Opiate’s Damaging Effects

Physical Dependence

The conditions that make opiate overdose possible start inside the brain where opiates where away at brain cell structures. Opiates interact with essential neurotransmitter-producing brain cells and ultimately impair their ability to produce needed neurotransmitter supplies.

Before long, these cells come to rely on opiate effects to function normally. In the process, a person’s tolerance for the drug continues to increase as cell deterioration grows worse.

Psychological Dependence

As physical dependence takes hold, serious chemical imbalances develop throughout the brain. These imbalances inevitably start to impair the brain’s reward system functions. The brain reward system’s role works to coordinates learning and memory processes and uses this information to determine a person’s priorities, drives and motivations.

When a psychological dependence develops, the reward system has reached a point where the drug’s effects are viewed as essential to a person’s day-today survival. This new belief system further fuels drug-using behavior that for the most part takes over a person’s thinking, emotions and priorities.

Opiate Overdose Risk Factors

Opiate overdose risk factors can vary depending on a person’s circumstances, though certain underlying factors tend to contribute to the likelihood of an overdose event. Contributing risk factors include:

  • Long-term opiate use
  • Lack of a support system in terms of people who have the addict’s best interests at heart
  • Poor physical health
  • Mental illness, such as existing depression or anxiety disorders
  • Little to no motivation to stop using drugs

Dangers of Prescription Opiate Abuse

Treatment Considerations

Over time, opiates exert a cumulative effect on brain and body functions, weakening the body’s overall health status along the way. Without needed treatment help, someone who keeps engaging in opiate abuse “burns the candle at both ends” in terms of the body’s deteriorating state and the increasing damage continued opiate abuse causes.

If you or someone you know struggles with opiate addiction to the point where the risk of opiate overdose is apparent, please feel free to call our toll-free helpline at (800) 407-7195 to speak with one of our addictions counselors.

the Take-Away

Today’s opiate overdose epidemic has swelled considerably since its beginnings, with more and more people succumbing to the addictive effects of opiates each year. Opiate overdose rates not only reflect the large number of people abusing these drugs, but also demonstrate how opiates can quickly overpower the mind and the body. Without needed treatment help, …