Opioid painkiller addiction has been recognised as a public health crisis in the US and Canada and officials have dubbed it an “opioid epidemic”. But sadly, this problem is not confined to the North American continent, opioid painkiller addiction is becoming a serious issue right here on our doorstep as more and more people in the UK succumb to opioid painkiller addiction and abuse, with statistics also revealing that opiate cocaine use is on the rise.

In the same way that not every person suffering from alcohol use disorder is a lonely drunk hiding in a dark corner of the local pub, not every drug addict is addicted to crack or meth and living in a filthy squat. There is a common misconception that people only become addicted to street or illegal drugs and that prescription opioid medication is not addictive. This could not be further from the truth. There are many people who are addicted to prescription drugs and medication, in particular, opioid-based painkillers, that has been given to them by doctors.

A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a group that represents the world’s richer economies, has taken a closer look at opioid painkiller supply, addiction and fatalities in 25 of their member countries and the results are not pretty. They concluded that there has been a surge in overdose deaths that they argue can be attributed to over-prescription of opioid painkillers by doctors as well as the illicit drug trade. The OECD added that opioid addiction and abuse is putting increased pressure on already overstretched and underfunded health care services. In recent years hospitals have seen a dramatic increase in opioid painkiller abuse, leading to more ER visits from accidental opioid overdoses and a rise in admissions to treatment programs and prescription drug rehab.


What are opioids?

Opioids are a large class of drugs that are both naturally occurring (morphine) as well as synthetic (fentanyl). They include heroin, fentanyl and prescription medications such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and morphine. Opioids act on opioid receptors in the body to produce euphoria and are primarily used for pain relief and anaesthesia. Opioid painkillers are typically prescribed to treat chronic pain and are essential for end-of-life care, but they can be highly addictive. Opioid medications, like methadone and buprenorphine, are typically used during medically assisted detox to help people overcome their addiction to stronger opioids and street drugs like heroin. Potent opioids, like carfentanil, are only approved for veterinary use.


What is Fentanyl?


What does opioid painkiller addiction look like?

Drug addiction does not always start with illegal street drugs like cocaine and heroin. Substance abuse can affect anyone from any walk of life. Opioid abuse and opioid painkiller addiction is becoming a serious issue in the UK. Over the last few years, Britain has seen a marked increase in addiction to legally prescribed opioid-based painkillers and accidental opioid overdoses from prescription painkillers like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl is on the rise.

Because opioid painkillers are legal and most people who use them have a prescription, recognizing the signs of opioid painkiller addiction and abuse can be difficult. People do not question the medication that their friends and family members are taking and readily assume that if they have a prescription, they are taking medication for a reason and following the dosage instructions. But people underestimate the risk of addiction and if anyone close to you is taking opioid-based painkillers you need to be vigilant. If you suspect that a friend or family member could be struggling with opioid painkiller addiction, their symptoms could include;

  • Inventing excuses to see a medical professional and making unnecessary doctor’s appointments
  • Constantly complaining about chronic pain that requires prescription painkillers
  • Exhibiting signs of defensive behaviour when discussing pain management medication
  • A change in behaviour, including lying about taking opioid-based painkillers and an increase in secretive, aggressive or paranoid behaviour
  • Lack of motivation and interest in work, studies and everyday activities
  • Changes in weight and eating patterns or loss of appetite
  • Loss of libido


Consequences of opioid painkiller addiction

If left untreated, addiction in any form has serious consequences. It destroys people’s careers, financial security, and relationships as well as their physical and mental health. Like any drug, the abuse of opioid painkillers has side effects and leads to the body becoming physically dependent on the medication. When an addict can’t get their usual fix from legally prescribed medications, they will often turn to dangerous black-market internet and street drugs to feed their habit.  Long-term addiction to opioid painkillers can also have physical side effects and may eventually lead to permanent health problems like liver damage. Once the body has become physically dependent on opioids, it is extremely difficult to overcome the addiction and giving up the drugs can lead to serious, and even life-threatening, withdrawal symptoms. Before detoxing from any opioid-based drug, it is important to seek medical advice and discuss your treatment options with a doctor.


How serious is the Opioid Painkiller Addiction in the UK?

When the OECD study looked at the legal availability of opioids, including prescriptions and over-the-counter sales, they found that the UK was just above the average when measuring daily dose per million people. But what is even more concerning is that there has been a more rapid rate of growth in opioid painkiller prescriptions in the UK than in almost any other country in the test group. The only countries where the growth was faster were Israel and Slovakia. According to the OECD, this should raise the alarm among medical professionals and policymakers in Britain. The OECD believes that a surge in overdose deaths is due to over-prescription of opioid painkillers by doctors, adding pressure to a mounting healthcare crisis. Their recommendation is that doctors need to be better trained and informed about the dangers and risks associated with opioid painkillers.

Opioid painkiller addiction can lead to long-term social, physical and mental health disorders and it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible. Intervention and the right treatment path can help you save your career, your relationships and quite possibly your life. Contact Ocean Recovery Centre today to discuss treatment options for opioid painkiller addiction.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: March 25, 2021

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.