In Virginia and across the U.S., we are facing an opioid crisis. More Virginians die every year from overdoses than from automobile crashes; nationally, there is an overdose death every 5 minutes.
But there is hope, too: The crisis has inspired national action, from grassroots groups to states and the federal government. In Virginia, we’re taking steps toward recovery. Since 2016, when the state health commissioner declared the Virginia opioid crisis to be 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 medications prescribed to reduce acute pain and the pain that often 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. Learn more about opioids, including common drugs like heroin and fentanyl.
When used correctly under a health care provider’s direction, prescription opioids can help relieve pain. But their effectiveness may decrease with prolonged use, leading some people to use more than prescribed. Opioids are strong, and misusing them may lead to dependence and addiction. If taken incorrectly, 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 drug 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 drug.
Side effects of opioid use may vary, but these are some of the most common:
Call 911 for immediate help if someone:
Someone in treatment or who stops taking opioids may experience withdrawal symptoms. When administered and monitored in a treatment setting, medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, Suboxone, or naltrexone can help alleviate cravings and the symptoms of withdrawal. Withdrawal can be physically painful but is usually not life-threatening.
Early symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:
Later symptoms of withdrawal include:
Overdose and death by overdose can occur when someone takes more than the prescribed dosage of opioid medication or uses illegal opioids like heroin. Treatment can help people who are at risk of overdose or who are dependent on opioids recover and regain control of their lives.