In Virginia and across the U.S., we are facing an opioid crisis. More Virginians die every year from overdoses than in automobile accidents; nationally, there is an overdose death every 20 minutes.
But there is hope, too: The crisis has inspired national action, from the grassroots to the government and places in between. In Virginia, we’re taking steps toward recovery. Since 2016, when the state health commissioner declared the Virginia opioid crisis a public health emergency, state agencies and community-based organizations have responded, offering lifesaving resources to all Virginians.
The journey away from opioid misuse starts one step at a time. Together, we can curb the crisis.
Opioids are among medications that providers prescribe to reduce acute, severe pain and the pain that follows surgery. The illegal drug heroin is also an opioid. Because opioids can lead to temporary changes in mood, including feelings of euphoria, they can be misused. You can learn more about opioids, including information on common drugs like heroin and fentanyl, here.
With prolonged use, opioids’ pain-relieving effects may decrease and pain can become worse, leading some people to use more than prescribed.
When used correctly under a healthcare provider’s direction, prescription pain medicines can help. However, opioids are strong, and misusing them may lead to dependence and addiction. Even a single dose may be enough to cause serious health problems, or even death by overdose.
In addition to other side effects, opioids can cause dependence, meaning the body gets used to the medicine and slows its own production of endorphins — hormones produced by the body that provide a sense of well-being. The body starts to need the medication.
Side effects may vary, but common side effects people have when using opioids are:
Call 911 for immediate help if someone:
Someone in treatment or who stops taking opioids might experience withdrawal symptoms. Medications administered and monitored in a treatment setting, such as methadone, buprenorphine, Suboxone, or naltrexone, can help alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal and cravings. Withdrawal can be physically painful but is usually not life-threatening.
Early opioid withdrawal symptoms include:
Late withdrawal symptoms include:
Overdose, and death by overdose, can occur when someone takes more than the prescribed amount of medication or uses illegal opioids like heroin. Treatment can help people who are at risk of overdose or who are dependent on drugs recover and regain control of their lives.