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How to recognize and take control of an opioid problem

GEHA | August 11, 2020

Opioids are prescribed because they are good at blocking severe pain, but this same quality can lead to dependence.

In 2018, approximately 128 Americans died each day from an opioid overdose. Between 1999 and 2018, nearly 450,000 people died from opioid overdoses.

Because of grim figures like these, a dark cloud hangs over the word opioid. Opioids can enter your life innocently enough. A doctor may prescribe an opioid if you’ve had surgery, sustained a major injury, live with chronic pain or have pain from a health condition like cancer.

Opioids became popular in the late 1990s. As opioid deaths increased, doctors began prescribing opioids less often.

While opioids are prescribed because they are good at blocking severe pain, they may also have the side effect of making the user feel good. Over time, the body becomes accustomed to the effect of the drug, requiring a higher dose to achieve the same euphoric feeling as before. This tolerance can lead to dependence.

Warning signs and help

Here are some warning signs if a user is developing an opioid dependence or addiction:

  • Limited or no self-control over opioid use
  • Insatiable cravings
  • Drowsiness
  • Inconsistent or changing sleep habits
  • Weight loss
  • Persistent flu-like symptoms
  • Lowered libido
  • Different exercise habits
  • Pulling away from friends or family
  • Stealing
  • Sudden financial problems

If you or someone you know may have an opioid problem, talk with a doctor. Opioids are powerful drugs. Trying to quit suddenly can produce withdrawal symptoms that include sweating, nausea, diarrhea, pain, depression, insomnia or fatigue. 

Opioids are not a long-term treatment. A doctor will work with you to slowly and safely wean him or her off the drugs. If you don’t have a regular physician, GEHA can help you find one nearby from our network of providers.

“Understanding the epidemic.”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 March, 2020.

“Opioid overdose crisis.”, National Institute on Drug Abuse, 27 May, 2020.

“Opioid misuse and addiction.”, National Institute of Health, 9 July 2020.

“Opioid addiction.”, The American Academy of Family Physicians, 26 February, 2019.

“Signs of Opioid Abuse.”, Johns Hopkins Medicine, no date provided.