Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illicit drug Heroin, as well as regular prescription (Rx) pain relievers such as Oxycodone (OxyContin and Percocet), Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab), Codeine, Morphine, Methadone, Fentanyl and others.
Opioids are one of the most abused drugs in the U.S. and they are easy to get ahold of, readily prescribed and are very addictive - a dangerous combination. Of particular concern is that opioids can cause measurable symptoms of addiction in less than three days!
The 2014 National Survey on Drug use and Health has estimated that there were 4.3 million non-medical users of pain relievers in the U.S. in 2014, a population second only in size to marijuana users.
The U.S. is in the midst of an opioid epidemic. Drug overdoses today are the leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S. - more than car crashes and gun deaths combined - and opioids are driving this epidemic. The CDC announced in December 2016 that more people died from drug overdoses in 2015 than in any other year on record and 60% of those deaths came from opioids. This is a uniquely American issue. While Americans comprise less than 5% of the world’s populace, we consume 80% of the world’s opioids and 99% of the world’s Hydrocodone and Oxycodone.
PRESCRIPTION (Rx) OPIOIDS. In 2014, more young adults died from prescription drug (mostly opioid) deaths, than overdoses from any other drug, including heroin and cocaine combined, including many more needing emergency room treatments.
Nearly a half million teens (aged 12-17 years old) used prescription painkillers non-medically for the first time in 2014. These drugs are easily accessible from family or friends’ medicine cabinets. The prescribing rates for prescription opioids among adolescents and young adults nearly doubled from 1994-2007.
As stated above, in the Tamalpais HS Union District, 24% of 11th grade teens surveyed used prescription pain killers or other prescription stimulants, according to the 2015-16 CHKS survey. Most teens do not believe that painkillers are dangerous, because they are prescribed by a doctor and are not illegal. The terms “pharming” or “pharm party” refer to swapping or sharing Rx drugs. The term “trail mix” or “skittles” refers to mixing various prescription drugs at pharm parties. Fortunately, pharm parties are not common in our Marin high schools.
Opioids bind to the brain’s opioid receptors. Once attached, they initiate a cascade of neurochemical activity which signals a massive influx of dopamine. The signals sent to the brain block pain, slow breathing and have a general calming and antidepressant effect.
Signs of Misuse. These include constricted, small pupils (pinprick or pinpoint in size), noticeable euphoria (feeling high), marked sedation, intermittent nodding off or loss of consciousness, respiratory depression (shallow or slow breathing), nausea, vomiting, constipation, and analgesia (feeling no pain). Withdrawal symptoms can mimic flu symptoms.
Slang terms. These include Hillbilly Heroin, Kickers, Oxy, OC, Oxycotton, Cotton or being Jammed (Oxycodone) and Jerry Rice (80mg tabs), Percs, Percodans (Percocet), Vic, Vikings, Vikes, Watson-377 (Vicodin) and Happy Pills and Big Boys.
Mixing Alcohol and Opioid Painkillers. As with Benzos, both alcohol and opioid painkillers are central nervous system depressants. When combined, these substances can have a catastrophic interplay. Concurrent use can hasten an overdose due to a synergy in respiratory depression. While alcohol alone can have harmful effects on the liver, the risk of liver damage is severe as many painkillers also contain acetaminophen.
Gateway to Heroin. Four out of five new heroin users started out by misusing prescription painkillers.