Opioids and Chemical Abuse

Opioids and Chemical Abuse

Steve started having achy, stiff, swollen joints, rashes, frequent headaches, sweating, horrible pain and foggy cognition.  He sought medical help but the doctors he saw were baffled by his symptoms, so they prescribed an opioid to treat the pain.  Over time, he needed to increase the dosage to reduce his excruciating pain.  Eventually, he was diagnosed with Lyme’s disease.  But it was too late.  He was addicted to opioids.

The U.S. is amid an opioid epidemic.  The National Institute of Drug Abuse reports more than two million Americans abuse opioids and 90 people die each day.  Opioids are narcotic medications typically prescribed to relieve pain after surgery, injury, or to ease chronic pain.  Some common opioids include Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, Dilaudid and Fentanyl.

Opioids do not stop pain.  They block brain receptors from recognizing the pain.  As with most drugs and alcohol, the body builds up a tolerance to the drugs, which means more and more of the drug is needed to relieve the pain.  This process leads to dependency and addiction.  Some say that dependency and addiction can begin in as little as three days.  Since the medical community became educated about the easy, addictive nature of opioids, prescriptions have become more restricted.  As a result, some people addicted to opioids have turned to heroin use, an illegal narcotic.

Some symptoms of an overdose include shallow/slow breathing, inability to wake, and blue fingernails/dark lips.  Immediately call 911 if you suspect someone is overdosing.  Naloxone is a lifesaving medication that reverses the effects of an overdose.

Chemical dependence and addiction can happen to anyone regardless of gender, race, age, geographic location and socio-economic status.  Factors which may increase the risk of drug or alcohol abuse include, but are not limited to:

  • Chronic pain
  • Acquiring a disability
  • Unemployment
  • Poverty
  • Homelessness
  • A history of abuse issues
  • A family history of addiction
  • Divorce, job loss, loss of a loved one
  • Loneliness or worthlessness
  • Having a mental health disorder
  • Difficulty adjusting to change or managing stress

Chemical use can impact student learning and persistence.  Various treatment options, education, counseling, and support are available to treat addictions successfully.  To learn more about chemical health, treatment options and support groups visit the Chemical Health category on PANDA’s website, https://mn.abedisabilities.org/

Wendy Sweeney, PANDA Manager PANDA - Minnesota ABE Disability Specialists