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Recognising the Signs of Opioid Dependence

What are the signs of an opioid addiction?

Although most people use prescription drugs appropriately and effectively, there has been a significant increase in the number of cases where these drugs have been abused. Recent reports revealed a marked increase in the deaths of people who have abused prescribed opiates. Many of these deaths involved young people below the age of 25.

PDA has a long history involving different classes of medication: opiates, CNS Depressants (benzodiazepines, hypnotics, barbiturates) and stimulants. Two of the most frequently reported prescription medications in drug abuse-related cases are benzodiazepines
(e.g., diazepam, alprazolam, clonazepam, and lorazepam) and opioid pain relievers
(e.g., oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, methadone, and combinations that include these drugs).

Prescription drugs are now reported as the second most commonly abused category of drugs after cannabis; ahead of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. There has been a substantial increase in opioid use in Australia and New Zealand in recent years: in Australia, there was a 40-fold increase in oral morphine supply between 1990 and 2006, and a nearly 4-fold increase in oxycodone supply between 2009 and 2013.

Prescription pain medicine addiction has been prevalent in media headlines recently, with the high profile coverage of two sportsmen who allegedly grappled with misuse. However, beyond the spotlight, it also threatens the lives of many people who suffer in secret and behind closed doors.

The figures indicate the widespread misuse of prescription drugs and yet this addiction remains widely misunderstood. Where is the line between appropriate use and addiction to prescription pain medicines? Signs of inappropriate use can include dosage without prior consultation with a clinician and ‘doctor shopping’ e.g. visiting several doctors to get prescriptions without telling them about the prescriptions already acquired. In these situations it is likely that the drug misuse is causing problems for the user in terms of their physical and mental health, their relationships and their ability to function within the scope of their everyday lives.

Young people who use other drugs are more likely to abuse prescription medications. According to the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (US). 63 percent of youth who had used prescription drugs non- medically in the past year had also used marijuana in the past year, compared with 17 percent of youth who had not used prescription drugs non-medically in the past year.

Signs include excessive use and tolerance, doctor shopping, aggression and irritability, hoarding and saving drugs, inappropriate use, e.g. for stress, concurrent use of illicit drugs and complaints by family and friends.

Treating patients with an addiction to prescription drugs is challenging and involves working closely with pain specialists, GPs and other health professionals.  When treating addiction it is important to understand the family and relational legacy with respect to the patient. A family history of alcohol, addiction, mood disorders or trauma are mitigating factors to be taken into consideration.

Years of research have shown that addiction to any drug (illicit or prescribed) is a brain disease that can be arrested. The ‘Australian Life in Recovery Survey’ (May 2015 South Pacific Private and Turning Point) clearly indicated that, although a peer-based (e.g. 12 Step), behavioural or pharmacological approach as a stand-alone might be sufficient, overall a combined approach may be best and have more favourable results in the longer-term.

Multiple courses of treatment may be needed for a patient to make a full recovery and to remain committed to a tailored ongoing treatment plan. Treatment must take into account the type and amount of drug used, the needs of the individual and the history of that individual’s family unit. Successful treatment will likely require a combination of components including detoxification, counselling, psychotherapy, inpatient admission and, sometimes, the use of addiction medications.

South Pacific Private has experience of treating prescribed opioid dependence. If you believe you or a loved one is struggling we advise that you contact your local GP to reach out for support. You can also call us 24/7 on freecall 1800 063 332.

About South Pacific Private:

South Pacific Private is Australia’s leading mental health and addiction treatment facility offering inpatient and day programs to treat anxiety disorders, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, behavioural addictions, alcohol addiction and substance abuse. Treatment at South Pacific Private offers the best possibility of recovery through its multidisciplinary, tailored programs which are designed to meet the individual needs of clients. South Pacific Private’s Consumer and Carer Advisory Committee comprises of past patients who are involved in, and advises on, issues that relate to both clients and their carers or family members.