It can happen unexpectedly. One minute you’re taking a pill to relieve some minor back pain. The next minute, you’re addicted, or worse, you overdose accidentally.
Approximately 5,000 Medicare Part D beneficiaries per month suffered an opioid overdose during the first eight months of 2020, according to the Office of Inspector General (OIG). The OIG is charged with providing oversight to Health and Human Services programs, including Medicare and Medicaid.
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Addressing this problem requires educating yourself about prevention and knowing what to do if you become addicted. Here are several important questions to consider.
Opioids are a type of pain-relieving drug. They attach to opioid receptors in your brain cells, causing those cells to release signals that mute your perception of pain and increase your feelings of pleasure.
Although these medications are highly effective in certain scenarios (e.g., after a major operation or severe trauma), they become dangerous when you take them for too long. You can become dependent on them, meaning you experience physical and psychological symptoms if you don’t take the drug. When this happens, you can have a compulsive need for the drug even despite its harmful effect on your life.
There is evidence that substance abuse disorders – particularly opioid abuse – are linked to COVID-19 susceptibility. This could be because the lungs and cardiovascular system are often compromised in individuals who have a substance abuse disorder. In addition, African Americans with an opioid use disorder are more than four times more likely to develop COVID-19 compared to White Americans.
Other risk factors for COVID-19 (e.g., hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and renal diseases) are also more prevalent among African Americans with an opioid use disorder.
If this is the first time a doctor has prescribed an opioid for you, you may be limited to a seven-day supply or less to decrease the likelihood that you’ll become dependent on the drug.
If your doctor continues to prescribe it, your Medicare drug plan will likely continue to monitor your use of the opioid to ensure that it’s safe. This is especially true if you get opioids from multiple doctors or pharmacies or if you use opioids and benzodiazepines (a type of drug that depresses your central nervous system) at the same time.
There are several steps you can take to prevent opioid addiction and overdose.
You might be addicted to opioids if you exhibit any of these signs:
Signs of an opioid overdose include constricted pupils, loss of consciousness, shallow breathing, choking, limp body, or cold/pale skin. If you suspect an opioid overdose, call 911 immediately.
You have several options. One is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). MAT combines medication with counseling and behavioral therapy to help you recover, and it may or may not be the right choice depending on your specific needs.
Another option is residential-based or hospital-based treatments. You can easily find a treatment facility confidentially and anonymously. There are also plenty of books, support groups, and other resources available to help you overcome your addiction.
Talking with your primary care physician is a good first step.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not healthcare advice, treatment or diagnosis. Speak to your doctor or healthcare provider about your specific healthcare needs, including your prescription medications. Only take medication as directed by your doctor.
Lisa Eramo is an independent health care writer whose work appears in the Journal of the American Health Information Management Association, Healthcare Financial Management Association, For The Record Magazine, Medical Economics, Medscape and more.
Lisa studied creative writing at Hamilton College and obtained a master’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University. She is a member of the American Health Information Management Association, American Academy of Professional Coders, Society of Professional Journalists, Association of Health Care Journalists and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
Lisa currently resides in Cranston, Rhode Island with her wife and two-year-old twin boys.
LinkedIn: Lisa Eramo