People across the country may not be aware that they’re part of an ongoing public health crisis – opioid addiction. Take someone like Chris, who works at a local supermarket. After surgery following a back injury, Chris’s doctor prescribed an opioid pain reliever. Chris continued to use the opioid pain reliever to feel more relaxed, to sleep and just to forget his worries. Before long, Chris developed a need for the medication even though he wanted to stop using it. When the doctor would no longer prescribe the drug, Chris began feeling very sick without it and started using similar medications obtained from friends.

A chronic brain disorder

Chris didn’t realize this was the beginning of a chronic brain disorder that, if left untreated, could be life-threatening. Opioid use disorder is a clinical diagnosis that a doctor gives to a person addicted to opioids such as prescription pain relievers or heroin. Chris is now one of 2 million Americans who have developed an opioid use disorder. 

You or someone you care about may be like Chris, who is facing a critical situation. Preventing an overdose is the first priority but no less important than being prepared if one should happen. In dire situations, naloxone is used as the antidote to opioid overdose. If it is administered promptly, it can reverse opioid overdose.

Getting treatment

Opioid use disorder is treatable. Don’t wait for an overdose to happen. The first step is to seek help. If you believe that you are suffering from this disorder, talk with your doctor about your symptoms and if you are experiencing increased sensitivity to pain, constipation, nausea, sleepiness and dizziness, confusion, low sex drive and depression. Deciding whether to start medication to treat an opioid dependency and which medication to use are critical early decisions to make.

Preventing an overdose is the first priority but no less important than being prepared if one should happen.

Many people with opioid use disorder may be addicted to other substances or have a mental disorder such as depression. These health conditions need to be treated at the same time. SAMHSA’s online tool, “Decisions in Recovery” offers a wide variety of resources that can help you speak with your provider about treatment options. To learn how to recognize opioid overdose and use naloxone, download SAMHSA’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Toolkit. Share it with your healthcare provider so they can prescribe naloxone.

If you or someone you care about is concerned about opioids, contact the SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit www.samhsa.gov/find-help.