Opioid addiction is a chronic medical condition with a number of associated co-morbidities which often requires life-long treatment. Although there is an increased focus on improving all aspects of care, as well as proactive measures in place to tackle the opioid crisis in the US, there is still an urgent medical need for more efficient treatments covering all phases of opioid addiction.

Opioid addiction is a chronic medical condition which often requires lifelong treatment. The causes of addiction are wide-ranging, with genetic factors thought to account for about 50 percent of an individual’s susceptibility to developing addictive behaviour.1 Environmental factors such as stress and exposure to the addictive substance also play a part in developing opioid addiction.2

Opioid addiction can affect anyone

In the US, opioid substance abuse affects all genders, ages, ethnicities and socio-economic classes. One of the root causes of opioid addiction, and the subsequent opioid crisis in the US, is the prescription of opioid-based pain medications, such as oxycodone and codeine, to relieve pain from:

  • tooth aches and dental procedures
  • injuries
  • surgeries
  • chronic conditions such as cancer

Many patients are not initially aware of the highly addictive properties of prescription opioids, or the adverse consequences related to long-term opioid use. Around 8-12% of patients who are prescribed opioids for for longer use become addicted.3 The signs and symptoms of addiction can be physical, behavioural, and psychological, and are often linked with anxiety attacks, mood swings, nausea and depression, as well as impacting the individual´s ability to work and sustain relationships. It is not uncommon for these patients to turn to unconventional ways of obtaining access to opioids, such as from the black market.

The life as an opioid dependent

Patients with opioid dependence need to ensure a constant intake of opioids as they can experience withdrawal symptoms just hours after their last dose. These symptoms include, but are not limited to, cravings, anxiety, and sleeping problems and can impact the individual’s ability to work and sustain relationships with family and friends. It is not uncommon for these patients to turn to unconventional ways of obtaining access to opioids, such as from the black market.

The short road to overdose

Unfortunately, efforts to limit access to prescription opioids has caused some patients to resort to heroin and stronger synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, leading to an increased risk of a fatal overdose. Fatalities relating to opioid overdoses have become the most common cause of death among Americans under the age of 504, and in 2017 more than 70,200 Americans died from a drug overdose, mainly caused by opioids.5

Addiction can be treated

Opioid addiction is a treatable condition. As a result of its chronic nature and long-term repercussions, the effectiveness of treatment varies among patients. Medication assisted treatments (MAT) are the most common therapies, which are based on buprenorphine, methadone or naltrexone. The gold standard for MAT in the US is buprenorphine/naloxone which can be taken under the tongue as a tablet or film, and is often provided in combination with behavioural counselling and psychological support.

1 Addiction and Recovery
2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3898681/
3 Clarion Healthcare, Orexo Capital Markets Day
4 Drug Policy Alliance
5 Center for Disease Control