Understanding how opiates work is something that most people are not that well-educated about. This poses a major problem, given that the United States has some of the highest opiate abuse rates in the world. Every hour, over five people die due to drug overdoses within the US. The first step in reducing opiate addiction rates is to educate people on how opioids work and how they lead to a high level of addiction seldom seen.
Dr. Russell Surasky is someone who has become an expert on opiate addiction. He is triple board-certified in neurology, addiction medicine, and preventative medicine. Dr. Surasky is the medical director of Bridge Back to Life, which is a multi-center outpatient addiction treatment program that helps those addicted to dangerous opiates like fentanyl. He has also founded the Surasky Neurological Center for Addiction in Great Neck, NY.
Dr. Surasky believes that once someone understands how opioids work, they will also realize why it is incredibly difficult for someone addicted to them to stop cold turkey. Rather than being a moral failing, as politicians have been telling us for decades, addiction is a complex chronic disease that includes a lifetime risk of relapse. Thankfully, there have been advances in our understanding of the brain and how opiates affect it. There are now treatments, which Dr. Surasky uses, that have the power to reverse the neurological damage caused by opiates, leading to a permanent recovery.
The first step in understanding opioid addiction is to understand what opioids are themselves. Generally, the word “opioid” refers to drugs that originate from the opium poppy. These include morphine, codeine, heroin, fentanyl, and others. Synthetic drugs like Oxycodone and Hydrocodone, known as Percocet and Vicodin, are also classified as opioids. The way they work is by lighting up the opiate receptors in the brain and spinal cord. These opioids have the power to significantly reduce the amount of pain someone feels. However, opiate receptors will also play into how we feel, both mentally and emotionally. That leads to opioids temporarily improving someone’s well-being. In fact, they will drastically lower feelings of depression and anxiety in the user, but only temporarily.
Opioids that get prescribed to mitigate pain can indeed provide pain relief. However, they do so at a cost. It is very easy to misuse them and get hooked on them. That is due to these drugs overstimulating the brain's reward system. There is a euphoria experienced when using opioids that, once gone, turns to depression.As soon as the drug wears off, it will detach from the opiate receptors it was locked into, which tells the brain that it needs more.
Thankfully, there are safe and non-addictive methods today that can effectively wean people off of opiates, including Vivitrol and spinal adjustments, among others.