Opioids are a class of drugs that are utilized to relieve pain. Prescription opioids and heroin, an illegal substance, are among the most commonly used opioids. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), opioids can be highly addictive because they reduce the brain’s perception of pain and increase feelings of pleasure. NIDA explains how certain individuals aim to increase the euphoric effects of prescription opioids by crushing the pills and snorting or injecting the powder, which leads to a greater amount of drug being quickly absorbed by the body. Furthermore, NIDA says that repeated opioid use has a tendency to result in drug tolerance, thus requiring the user to administer a greater dose to get the same feeling of pleasure. This characteristic makes it easier for opioid users to overdose, particularly if they have previously entered addiction rehabilitation and unknowingly lowered their tolerance for the drug by abstaining.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 91 Americans die every day from a prescription opioid or heroin overdose, and that over 1000 people are treated for prescription opioid misuse in American emergency rooms every day. Opioid addiction, also referred to as opioid use disorder, continues to be a widespread epidemic even outside of emergency care. For instance, according to the CDC, almost two million Americans were either dependent upon opioids or abused opioids in 2014; approximately 25% of people who receive prescription opioids for non-cancer pain struggle with opioid addiction. And the number of opioid prescriptions in the United States has skyrocketed from 76 million in 1991 to almost 207 million in 2013.
Certain behavioral therapies and drugs such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are commonly used in treating opioid addiction, yet a study conducted in 2010 concluded that the post-treatment relapse rate—the rate at which people return to using a drug after abstaining from use—for persons with opioid addictions is about 91%. The study also found that most recovering addicts relapsed within their first week of leaving inpatient treatment. In contrast, other data has pointed to greater success in treating opioid addictions, particularly with drug-based treatments.