Five Things You Must Know About Opioid Addiction.

Wrote my first piece for the local newspaper this week.

Check it out here:


As a local doctor I have observed that this condition is actively ruining the lives of young men and women within our community. Nationwide it has led to numerous unwarranted deaths. As our nation, policy makers and health care systems continue to battle the Opioid Epidemic that has swept through America, here are two reasons why you should care. One study showed that in 2016 certain Kentucky counties led the list of the number of opiates prescribed to persons with private insurance. Secondly, taking opiates for longer periods of time and in higher doses increases the risk of addiction. With this in mind, I will share 5 facts about the addiction to opiates.


  1. Opiates are a class of medications or drugs that include heroin and prescription pain relievers such as hydrocodone, codeine, oxycodone, morphine, fentanyl and several others. They are derived from a plant known as the opium poppy plant. Despite this, anyone can develop tolerance to opiates if their use of opiates is not actively restricted. This is one reason why prescription drug monitoring programs exist to ensure user compliance with these prescription-based medicines. It is important to note that no one is immune to the disease called Opioid Use Disorder.
  1. Opioid Addiction is a brain disease as much as it is behavioral. Knowing this should help reduce the stigma behind it so that people affected can seek repeated medical assistance like others with chronic medical illnesses do. Just like any other disease it is also preventable, though primarily by avoidance (behavioral component). In a sense, opiate addiction is a brain disease that is defined by a person seeking continuous pleasure or relief by the use of an opiate containing substance. There is usually a perceived sensation that facilitates the individual to continue to desire the product. Addiction is a chronic disease, which carries a very high risk of relapse. This is why accountability and recovery programs alongside medication assisted therapies work best in managing this problem. “Coming off drugs” on your own is not the preferred method to battle this chronic illness. Acute intoxication is a medical emergency and should be brought to medical attention immediately. It should be responded to with the same urgency as a heart attack. There is a life saving medication that can reverse the sudden life threatening effects of opioids on the brain, it is called naloxone.
  1. Opioid addiction can cause a type of belly pain that worsens with prolonged exposure to even higher doses of opiates that are frequently used to treat this pain. This is what is known as narcotic bowel syndrome. Addiction to opiates increases one’s risk of dying, drug overdose, several types of serious infections such as heart infections, constipation, excessive sleepiness and even coma. Intoxication frequently causes death by slowing down the center in the brain that is responsible for spontaneous breathing.
  1. One may have a problem with opiates if within the previous 12 months they are taking large amounts of the medication or taking more than what was intended by their licensed prescriber. Other signs include a strong desire to use opiates irrespective of the cause of the need. If you find yourself losing out on important things such as a job, family, relationships or money because you are pursuing opiates you should consider seeking help. If you spend a lot of time creating ways to obtain these medications, that too is a red flag. And of course if you continue to use these medications after you have a gut feeling about the need to stop using them, you should also talk to a licensed professional for help.
  1. The State of Kentucky and its neighboring states have a prescription-monitoring program that medical providers use to determine prior exposure to prescription drugs. This helps your doctor decide on whether you continue to have an indication for the use of prescription opiates. Doctor shopping for medications can be easily identified with these programs. Such programs also reduce the risk of misuse by decreasing availability of the product in the community. Obtaining opiates from illicit sources can carry several repercussions such as ingesting expired medications and/or compounded synthetic drugs besides what was intended. Both of these carry a risk of overdose and death from other breathing or heart-related problems.

Nina Lum, MD is a hospitalist physician in London, KY. She is board certified in Family Medicine. Her goal is to provide you with information your doctor already has so that you can cross-examine your options with them. You can ask a question or request a discussion on any health-related topic via twitter @doctornina.

Tell me what you think.