Is The Opioid Epidemic Getting Better or Worse

The opioid epidemic has plagued the United States for the last three decades. Sadly, millions of people were victims of the overprescription of opioids during the 1990s.  
Opioid Epidemic

Table of Contents

What is an Opioid?

The overuse of opioids has led many people who suffer from chronic pain to also struggle with substances like OxyContin and heroin. Unfortunately, the opioid epidemic has only gotten worse with time. An opioid is a drug class that comes from the opium plant. It contains drugs such as heroin, fentanyl, pain relievers, hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, codeine, synthetics, and several other drugs.

Drug Class

Opioids have their own drug class. They all come from the opium poppy plant. They are normally used for pain relief because of how effective they are, but they can be very addictive because of the strong euphoric feeling they give off.

Drug Schedule

Opioids fall under primarily two different schedules. Schedule I drugs are the most addictive, which is where heroin falls. Substances such as Vicodin, OxyContin, and fentanyl fall under Schedule II drugs that have a high risk for abuse.

Brand Names and Street Names

There are several different brand names and street names for opioids. Because it is a powerful drug, it has been used in hospitals to try and help people. Here are a few of the brand names:

Tylenol #3/4

Some street names include:

Captain Cody
Miss Emma
White Stuff
Pain killers
China girl
Hillbilly Heroin

Common Opioids

There are a few very common opioids. The most common version is heroin, which is illegal. Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs on earth, though there are other extremely addictive opioid substances. Most of them fall under the categories of either prescription opioids or synthetic opioids.

Prescription Opioids

The most common prescription opioids are oxycodone and hydrocodone. These substances tend to go by their brand names, OxyContin and Vicodin. Morphine and methadone are also two other commonly prescribed opioids that can be addictive.

Synthetic Opioids

The most well-known type of synthetic opioid is fentanyl. This drug is significantly more powerful than your typical opiate, and it is used for the most severe pain. In the last few years, people have started to produce fentanyl illegally, and it has now become a more popular drug of choice for many individuals who struggle with substance use disorder. 

Signs of Opioid Addiction

Opioid addiction or substance use disorder happens when a person misuses synthetic or prescription drugs. One of the most efficient ways that you can tell if someone is struggling with opioid addiction is when it starts to impact their ability to do daily tasks. There will be several different symptoms that you might be able to notice. 

Other Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms can be some of the most obvious when it comes to opioid use disorder. Some of those things are:

  • Drowsiness
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Bad hygiene
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Troubles sleeping 

Behavioral Symptoms

Normally, these physical signs will coincide with several behavioral symptoms as well. They can be different per person, but all of them can be signs of opioid addiction. 6

  • Random cravings that they cannot control
  • A decrease in libido
  • Changes in daily habits such as lack of exercise or hygiene
  • Stealing, especially from loved ones
  • Financial difficulties 

Heroin Addiction’s Effects

Using heroin can cause changes to the physiology and physical structure of the brain.7 Because heroin is so addictive, this chemical dependency can happen almost instantly, leading to troubles with decision making, regulating behavior, and stress relief. There are several different effects heroin can have on a person. 

Short-Term Effects

In the short term, heroin can create a euphoric feeling. However, withdrawal can kick in within a couple of hours of first using heroin. Withdrawal can lead to pain, trouble sleeping, vomiting, goosebumps, and more. The short-term effects of using heroin can be difficult to deal with.7 Some effects that will kick in right away are:

  • Nausea
  • Heavy Feeling
  • Itching
  • Dry Mouth or Cotton Mouth
  • Limbs Might Become Heavy
  • Being in a Semi-Conscious State 

Long-Term Effects

However, the long-term effects can be even more difficult to deal with. They are as follows: 8

  • Sexual troubles
  • Insomnia
  • Damaged tissue
  • Swollen tissue
  • Constipation
  • Depression & Personality Disorders
  • Lung issues
  • Live Disease
  • Kidney Disease
  • Irregular menstrual cycles 


Sadly, heroin overdose is a very common issue. In 2018, there were over 47,000 opioid-related deaths inside of the United States alone. There are several signs of a heroin overdose, and it is important to know them. If you or a loved one have these signs, seek medical attention immediately.

Overdose symptoms include: 9

  • Pale or blue Skin
  • A bluish tint on digits and lips
  • Struggles with breathing
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Falling asleep while talking or standing up
  • Slurring
  • Troubles with motor skills 


Once a person starts the recovery process from heroin or has gone hours or a day sober, they may start experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms may vary from person to person in intensity and frequency. Symptoms normally last between twelve to thirty hours after heroin usage. For some people, they may last much longer. They are as follows: 10

  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Sleep Issues
  • Muscle Aches
  • A Runny Nose
  • Excessive sweating
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Cold chills or goosebumps
  • Dilated eyes
  • Cramping in the abdomen 

What is the Opioid Epidemic?

The opioid epidemic started in the United States during the 1990s, though it is not the first time that opioids were an issue. The opioid trade has been around for a few centuries, and it has crippled countries in the past.

This time around, the epidemic came from a belief that prescription opioids were not addictive, which led to doctors prescribing them at higher rates and, eventually, a nationwide misuse of the drugs. Once people could not afford the prescriptions anymore, several of them turned to heroin or fentanyl to get the same high as before.11  


The statistics are alarming when it comes to the opioid epidemic. Over 70,000 people died in 2019 due to overdose. Over 10.1 million people misused opioids last year.

Over 1.6 million people were struggling with opioid use disorder last year. This includes 745,000 people that confessed to using heroin within the past twelve months. In total, over 48,000 people died of opioid-related deaths from June 2019 to June 2020. This health crisis has hit homes across the nation, but it has especially impacted the Appalachia region. 11 

What is Polysubstance Abuse?

Polysubstance abuse is a substance use disorder when a person is struggling with three different kinds of drugs that are in different classes. Normally, people that struggle with polysubstance abuse do not have a favorite substance, but rather they use all three in multiple combinations to get the high they wanted. 

Drugs Used in Polysubstance Abuse

For the most part, people tend to mix alcohol, cocaine, and heroin. However, there are many times that people will add marijuana, benzodiazepines, hallucinogens like mushrooms, and methamphetamines. Because these drugs are in different classes, they all have different side effects. They can amplify and numb each other’s side effects which can raise the risk for overdose dramatically. 

Dangers Associated with Polysubstance Abuse

Mixing several substances greatly increases someone’s chance of overdose. However, it can also do more long-term damage to a person’s brain, body, and vital organs. A person must seek out recovery and treatment if they are struggling with polysubstance abuse. If you are struggling, talk to your doctor about the best steps you can take. 

Polysubstance Use Driving Overdose Death

There has been a 300% increase in opioid deaths over the past decade because of polysubstance usage among adolescents.12 Sadly, numbers have skyrocketed over the past decade when it comes to people who have passed away due to mixing cocaine with synthetic opioids. Since 2015, the number has more than tripled. The same goes for methamphetamines. Mixing the two drugs make overdosing easier because it is harder to regulate either of the drugs. This issue has led to a lot of deaths and serious overdose issues for those that survive.13 

Causes of Polysubstance Abuse

There are several different reasons why people start abusing multiple substances. They can vary from biological reasons to things that are going on in their life that might cause stress. 


Some people are more susceptible to addiction than others. If a person becomes chemically dependent on one substance, they will eventually need to take more of the drug to maintain the same high. This is especially true for heroin, which causes tolerance quickly. Because of this factor, people might start mixing it with other substances to intensify the high.14 


There can also be different psychological reasons for someone to struggle with polysubstance abuse. People who struggle with mental illness might start taking drugs to self-medicate some of the symptoms. Because of the addictive nature of these substances, it can become easy for people to accidentally become addicted to drugs. 


Finally, sociocultural influences like peer pressure and societal pressures can cause an increase in polysubstance abuse. Many people start taking prescription drugs after traumatic injuries. If they begin to misuse the substance, it can lead to serious issues. Originally, the patient took the drug to help with pain or mental health, but then it turned into an addiction when it was misused. These pressures to manage high levels of stress can easily push someone into self-medicating. 

Treatment for Opioid Addiction

The opioid epidemic has caused a vast need for treatment facilities that focus primarily on opioids and polysubstance use disorders. The process of becoming sober from an opioid can be long, arduous, and painful, but it is well worth it. Here are a few of the steps that a person can expect. 


Detox occurs when the patient stops taking whatever substance they have become dependent on. It can lead to a lot of withdrawal symptoms that can be very difficult to cope with. When it comes to opioids, it is best to detox within a medical facility or treatment center. Professional detoxing will allow you to be under the watch of medical professionals. 

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Because of how addictive heroin is, many doctors will have their patients use medication to help assist their treatment. MAT will go alongside therapy, and it will ease the withdrawal symptoms for the patient. 


Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps patients look at the behaviors they have in their life. They will slowly learn new ways to cope with stress and make different decisions during stressful situations. It helps with starting the patient on their road to recovery. 

Comprehensive Addiction Treatment

Comprehensive addiction treatment facilities are places where a person can go, either inpatient or outpatient, to find daily support on their road to recovery and sobriety. It is a place where they can get medication-assisted treatment, partial hospitalization if needed, outpatient resources, and other programs. The goal of comprehensive addiction treatment is to help a person with all facets of their lives. 

12-Step Program

12-Step programs are based on the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. These steps allow the patient to start working through their pains, hurts, and resentments while coming out of denial regarding their wrongdoing. It creates a community outside of treatment that the person can rely on. 

Relapse Prevention Therapy

Finally, a patient can go to relapse prevention therapy. During this therapy, patients will identify people, places, and issues that set them up for relapse. The goal is to see what those high-risk situations are, so the patient can develop healthier coping mechanisms.15

The opioid epidemic has not improved. It has slowly transitioned over time into polysubstance abuse. As treatment programs continue to expand and more research comes out, hopefully, more people can start their path to recovery. 


If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
623-523-4748 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

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