General Information and Dangers

What are opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs that act on the body’s opioid receptors including natural, semi-synthetic and synthetic opioids. Doctors prescribe them, typically in pill form, to help patients with severe or chronic pain. Opioids are highly addictive substances, and they can addict their patients even when taken as prescribed. There is always a risk of addiction, and that risk increases greatly the longer you use opioids.

Who is at risk for addiction?

It is important to remember that the medication itself is addictive. Even someone who takes opioids as prescribed by a doctor can develop a physical dependence on the drug, especially if prescribed for several weeks or more.

When someone who has become dependent on an opioid stops using it, they will likely experience withdrawal symptoms including restlessness, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, anger, depression, muscle or bone pain, nausea and more. Therefore, the risk of addiction should be weighed against the benefits of the medication and any concerns should be discussed with your doctor.

What is prescription opioid abuse?

  • Taking prescription opioids in a way that was not prescribed, such as taking too many pills at one time, combining pills with alcohol or other drugs, or crushing pills into powder to snort or inject them.
  • Taking someone else’s prescription opioid, even if you’re doing so for the medication’s intended purpose, to ease pain.
  • Taking prescription opioids for the sole purpose of feeling good or getting high.

Repeated misuse of opioids can lead to addiction and even death.

What are the dangers of opioids?

Taking just one dose too large can cause serious health problems and potentially lead to addiction and even death. Here’s a dose of reality: In 2016, 11.5 million Americans reported misusing prescription opioids and Americans consume more opioids than any other country in the world.

There were 63,600 drug overdose deaths in the United States, according to CDC data. About two-thirds of those overdose deaths (42,200) were linked to opioids. More specifically, non-methadone synthetic opioids like fentanyl were linked to more than 19,400 overdose deaths.

These numbers have put drug overdoses as the lead cause of death in America, surpassing the combined totals for gun homicides and car crashes. Sustaining this death toll is the equivalent of experiencing an event like September 11, 2001 every three weeks.

The epidemic is killing Americans at an average rate of 174 per day, and in Georgia, from 2010 – 2016 the total number of opioid-related overdose deaths in Georgia increased 117 percent, from 426 to 929 deaths.  Sadly that means, in Georgia alone, the epidemic is killing our citizens at an average rate of 4 per day.

Looking ahead, drug overdoses are expected to remain the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, as synthetic opioids — primarily fentanyl and its analogues — continue to flood our streets and push the death count higher.

Read the Department of Public Health’s latest Opioid Overdose Surveillance Report here which details the breakdown of this behavior in Georgia.

Common Prescription Opioids

Oxycodone Brand Names: OxyContin®, Percodan®, Percocet®
Hydrocodone Brand Names: Vicodin®, Lortab®, Lorcet®
Diphenoxylate Brand Names: Lomotil®
Morphine Brand Names: Kadian®, Avinza®, MS Contin®
Codeine Various Brand Names
Fentanyl Brand Name: Duragesic®
Hydromorphone Brand Name: Dilaudid®
Meperidine Brand Name: Demerol®
Methadone Various Brand Names
Tramadol Brand Name: Ultram, Ultram ER, Conzip

Addiction affects people from all walks of life.

Every year, the Office of the Attorney General sponsors a video/radio contest as part of the “We’re Not Gonna Take It” campaign. Students are asked to submit a video that highlights the dangers, risks, and consequences associated with opioid misuse and abuse. This year’s winners are Makayla Tappin from the Douglas County College and Career Institute, Endia Jennings from Bainbridge High School, and Angelie Ramirez from Gainesville High School.