Opioids are often prescribed to treat pain, but they also come in illicit forms. These powerful painkillers, derived from the poppy plant, release chemicals that work through the nervous system to relieve even the most serious pain. However, they also activate the reward centers of the brain, producing feelings of euphoria. As such, opioids are highly addictive.
Prescription opioids include oxycodone, morphine, and codeine, while illegal forms include heroin and fentanyl. But it is not just the illegal forms that are widely abused. In fact, more than 80 percent of heroin users say they started abusing prescription opioids first.
Nobody is Without Risk
Everyone is at risk of developing an opioid dependency, but people ages 65 and over and those with a history of drug or alcohol abuse have the greatest risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 400,000 died in opioid (both prescription and illicit) overdoses between 1999 and 2017.
There is no arguing that opioid addiction is an epidemic in this country. Doctors and other health care professionals are at the forefront of this battle, and their cooperation is paramount to victory. When they fail to take the necessary steps to prevent injury and death related to opioid addiction and overdose, they should be held accountable for their negligent actions.
How Opioid Abuse Affects the Brain
The brain is altered by exposure to continued and increasing dosages of opioids. Eventually, it begins to function normally in the presence of opioids and abnormally when they are absent from the system. Opioid tolerance, which is the need to take higher doses for the same effect, occurs because the brain’s opioid receptors become less responsive to the drug over time.
Once an individual has developed a tolerance for opioids, stopping or reducing opioid intake results in more than just a loss of the euphoric or pleasurable feelings. It also leads to distressing withdrawal symptoms.
Opioids can cause changes to the locus ceruleus (LC), an area at the base of the brain. The LC distributes the chemical noradrenaline throughout the brain to stimulate alertness, breathing, and blood pressure. As such, high levels of opioids can suppress these chemicals, causing slowed respiration, low blood pressure, and drowsiness. Over time, however, the body makes up for this by increasing levels of noradrenaline.
This “tinkering” of the body’s noradrenaline production is largely responsible for withdrawal symptoms. When opioids are present, the person feels normal. However, when they are not, the higher levels of noradrenaline create feelings of anxiety, as well as muscle cramps, jitters, and diarrhea. The only way to alleviate these awful feelings is to take more opioids.
Opioid abuse also changes the way the brain processes pain, even emotional pain like stress. As a result, opioid dependency can lead to an inability to tolerate pain and stress. In addition to the symptoms above, a person going through withdrawal may also suffer actual pain.
Although most of these symptoms will go away once the individual has stopped abusing opioids for a time, some psychological effects can linger for years.
Signs of Opioid Addiction
The signs below may indicate that you or a loved one is addicted to opioids, whether prescription or illegal. Behaviors and physical symptoms linked to opioid abuse include:
- The appearance of needle marks, most commonly on the arms and legs
- Withdrawal from normal socializing
- Skin that appears flushed
- Itchy skin
- Unexplained changes in behavior
- Engaging in risky behaviors
For many people, opioid addiction only ends one way—with an overdose. If you believe that you or a loved one is suffering from opioid addiction, speak up.
If Medical Negligence Played a Role
If your addiction or overdose was caused by medical negligence, the physician or other health care professionals involved may be at least partially liable. In many cases, it is unnecessary to prescribe opioids when a non-narcotic alternative would have been enough. But when a patient’s pain is severe enough that opioids are necessary, it is the doctor’s responsibility to closely monitor the patient throughout the entirety of his/her treatment.
Did your physician fail to:
- Consider alternative treatments of a non-narcotic nature?
- Explain the risks to you?
- Monitor all prescription refill requests?
- Question your long-term opioid needs?
- Seek alternative treatment for your chronic pain?
Pintas & Mullins Is Here to Help
Opioid abuse is responsible for thousands of deaths every year. At Pintas & Mullins, we want to do our part to fight this deadly epidemic. If you have been injured due to medical malpractice, we will work diligently to get you the compensation you deserve. You do not need to fight this battle alone. We are here for you.
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