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Opioid addiction is a growing crisis in America, resulting in thousands of overdose-related deaths every year. Whether you are directly affected by someone else’s opioid use or you are using these drugs yourself, everyone should be aware of the risk factors that can lead to addiction. This article will address the dangers and risks associated with opioid use, its effect on the U.S. population, and who is most vulnerable.

What Are Opioids?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse define opioids as a class of drugs that are chemically related and interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain. These include heroin and prescription pain relievers such as codeine, morphine, fentanyl and oxycodone, among others.

Opioids are very powerful and highly addictive drugs. Using the drug results in a “high” and feelings of pleasure, which reinforces the behavior and leads to addiction. Many people obtain prescribed opioid drugs legally from their doctor while others get them through individuals dealing them illegally.

Dangers of Opioid Abuse

Short-term effects of opioid abuse vary, but they often include:

  • Euphoric feelings
  • Paranoia
  • Nauseau
  • Drowsiness
  • Pain relief
  • Lethargy

Opioid abuse has very serious long-term effects as well, including heart infections, pulmonary embolisms, liver damage and brain damage as a result of respiratory depression (a severe reduction in the number of breaths taken per minute).

Life-threatening infections such as HIV, AIDS and viral hepatitis are also common in people addicted to opioids. These are frequently caused by dirty injection equipment.

Overdose is another huge danger associated with opioid abuse. Not only is drug overdose the leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S., but according to a recent report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid addiction resulted in 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015.

As with all drug abuse, opioid addiction also leads to all sorts of social problems, such as neglecting important responsibilities at home or at work, seriously damaging relationships, and putting loved ones in dangerous situations. Drug addiction can also lead to (or worsen) psychological issues such as depression, anxiety or other mental disorders.

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Facts and Statistics on Opioid Abuse in the U.S.

Opioids are easy to get, frequently prescribed by doctors and extremely addictive, so it’s no surprise they are one of the most abused drugs in the United States.

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of deaths caused by opioid overdoses increased by 2.5 times between 1999 and 2015.
  • The American Society of Addiction Medicine reported that an estimated 23% of people who use heroin develop an opioid addiction.
  • Data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that prescription and illicit opioids killed more than 33,000 people in 2015.
  • According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 2.1 million people in the U.S. were suffering from substance abuse related to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012 and an estimated 467,000 were addicted to heroin.
  • Every day, 46 people die from an overdose of prescription painkillers in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Who is Most At Risk For Becoming Addicted?

A variety of things play into the prevalence of opioid addiction, including socioeconomic factors, geographic location, health factors and more. Studies have found that the following factors increase the likelihood of someone becoming addicted to opioid drugs.

  1. People who consume high daily doses of prescribed opioids. Opioids are very addictive even after just a few days of consistent use. This puts anyone taking high doses of prescription painkillers at risk for developing an addiction.
  2. People who live in rural areas. Substance abuse, in general, is prevalent in rural areas due to higher rates of unemployment, poverty and lower education levels. Limited access to treatment and addiction education also increases the risk of opioid abuse.
  3. People with mental health problems. Mental disorders are often coupled with opioid abuse because they increase a person’s vulnerability to drug use. Some individuals with mental disorders may also use drugs to self-medicate to manage symptoms of their disease, which can develop into addiction.
  4. People who suffered from prior substance abuse problems. Studies have shown evidence that early drug use is a major risk factor for substance abuse, making these individuals extremely vulnerable.
  5. People on Medicaid. Individuals on Medicaid are often prescribed opioids too frequently to treat acute and chronic pain, resulting in many of them developing an opioid misuse disorder. In fact, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported that the prevalence for opioid use disorder in Medicaid beneficiaries is 8.7 per 1,000, which is estimated to be more than 10 times higher than in populations who receive coverage from private insurance companies.
  6. People with chronic pain. In this instance, opioids can be used to self-medicate, whether an individual obtains the drugs legally with a prescription or illegally otherwise.
  7. People who are prescribed opioids for postoperative pain relief. Many people first start taking prescribed opioids from their doctor to manage pain after a surgery. But even this can lead to addiction. In fact, according to Dr. Chad Brummett, director of the division of pain research at the University of Michigan Medical School, a study he authored found that “5 to 6 percent of patients not using opioids prior to surgery continued to fill prescriptions for opioids long after what would be considered normal surgical recovery.”

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Reducing the Risk of Addiction

Since the conversation about the serious opioid problem in America is growing, more people are realizing that there is a need for preventative action. While there are program initiatives underway to combat the prevalence of opioid addiction and overdoses, what does prevention look like on a personal level?

If you are concerned that you or someone you love may develop an addiction to opioids, education is a key factor in combating it. Talk to your healthcare provider or visit a reputable online source, such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more information. Additionally, if your doctor prescribes an opioid for pain management, make sure to ask if there are other options available or get a second opinion from another doctor.

Opioid addiction affects people in all walks of life. At Briarwood Detox Center, we offer inpatient medical detox and an executive detox program to address the specific needs of adult clients of all ages, professionals, and lifestyles. Call today to learn more about our individualized detox programs or to enroll.





  1. https://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf
  2. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/6386/932bfe7d1090a30f7c845aab2c4ee220ee5a.pdf
  3. https://medlineplus.gov/news/fullstory_164600.html
  4. http://managedhealthcareexecutive.modernmedicine.com/managed-healthcare-executive/news/top-risk-factors-opioid-use-disorder-overdose
  5. https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/topics/substance-abuse
  6. https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2016/americas-addiction-to-opioids-heroin-prescription-drug-abuse
  7. https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2016/what-science-tells-us-about-opioid-abuse-addiction
  8. http://drugabuse.com/library/the-effects-of-opiate-use/
  9. https://www.medpagetoday.com/psychiatry/addictions/22039
  10. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm655051e1.htm
  11. https://www.cms.gov/Outreach-and-Education/Outreach/Partnerships/Downloads/CMS-Opioid-Misuse-Strategy-2016.pdf
  12. https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/opioid-prescribing/
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