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The 4 Biggest Health Challenges Faced by People in Recovery from Opioid Dependence



The 4 Biggest Health Challenges Faced by People in Recovery from Opioid Dependence

In the past two decades, over a million people have lost their lives to drug overdoses, with opioids leading the cause. The gravity of the crisis is evident from the fact that over 1,500 deaths occur every week from opioid overdoses.

The opioid habit’s grip extends far beyond the initial dependence on the drug. The path to recovery is a demanding journey with unique hurdles at every turn. This blog delves into the four most significant health challenges faced by individuals embarking on this transformative journey.

Overcoming Physical Dependence

The initial stage of recovery from opioid dependence is often dominated by intense withdrawal symptoms. This physiological response to the absence of opioids can manifest in a multitude of ways. 

The person may suffer intense muscle aches and cramping, gastrointestinal distress like nausea and vomiting, and sleep disturbances characterized by insomnia and fatigue. The severity of withdrawal can vary depending on the individual’s use history and the specific opioid used. 

However, its impact is undeniable, disrupting daily life and posing a significant hurdle in the early stages of recovery.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)

In recent years, MAT has emerged as a crucial weapon in fighting opioid dependence. Medications like Suboxone, a mix of buprenorphine and naltrexone, have been widely used in MAT programs. 

The two chief constituents mentioned help regulate the brain’s chemistry, alleviating withdrawal symptoms and reducing cravings. This not only improves the patient’s physical comfort but also enhances their ability to focus on therapy and other essential aspects of recovery.

The manufacturers initially promoted the drug as a safe medication. However, according to TruLaw, numerous users of Suboxone have suffered severe dental complications. Crown erosion, tooth loss, tooth decay, and root canals are some of the side effects mentioned in public cries. The impacted are taking legal action against the companies responsible for manufacturing and promoting the drug. The main allegation in a Suboxone lawsuit is that the companies downplayed the drug’s potential risks.

Imagine the plight of an individual who has to now take care of his dental complications, in addition to overcoming intense cravings and physical changes from stopping opioids.

The physiological dependence on opioids doesn’t disappear overnight. Intense cravings, a hallmark feature of addiction, can persist during early recovery. 

Underlying Mental Health Conditions

The scars of addiction often intertwine with underlying mental health issues. Depression, anxiety, and PTSD precede or co-occur with opioid use disorders.

Now, if opioids were being used to cope with these psychological conditions, then they could resurface during recovery. This risks cravings or relapse. Furthermore, the neurological changes caused by opioid use can leave individuals more vulnerable to mental health struggles after the drug is discontinued.

Withdrawal disrupts the brain’s reward system, leading to intense anxiety and agitation. This can make individuals feel on edge, restless, and easily frustrated. Moreover, withdrawal disrupts sleep patterns, causing difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and experiencing hallucinations. This lack of quality sleep can further exacerbate mental trauma.

Another serious mental health complication is the inability to experience pleasure. This can kill the person’s motivation and enjoyment in activities that were earlier really rewarding and fulfilling.

Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

Pregnant women withdrawing from opioids face a heightened risk of complications extending to their newborns. Opioid exposure in utero can lead to neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) in infants. 

NAS is a cluster of withdrawal symptoms experienced by babies born to mothers who were dependent on opioids during pregnancy. Common signs and symptoms of NAS can include:

Central nervous system (CNS) hyperactivity: This can manifest as tremors, irritability, excessive crying, hypertonia (increased muscle tone), and difficulty sleeping.

Gastrointestinal (GI) distress: Feeding difficulties, frequent sucking, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation are all common symptoms.

Autonomic dysfunction: This can manifest as sweating, fever, yawning, sneezing, and tachypnea (rapid breathing).

Other potential symptoms include poor weight gain, dehydration, and seizures (rare).

The severity of NAS is directly correlated with the mother’s opioid use patterns and can necessitate specialized care for the newborn. Newborns with NAS typically experience withdrawal symptoms within the first 24-72 hours after birth, and these symptoms can peak around days 3-5 before gradually subsiding over a week or two.

Infectious Endocarditis and its Fatal Side-Effects

This is a life-threatening inflammation of the heart’s inner lining caused by bacteria or fungi entering the bloodstream. This is a grave risk for opioid users with a history of using non-sterile needles during intravenous drug use.  

Surgery is the general mode of treatment for this disease. However, it is disheartening to note that a majority of these patients experience a relapse into opioid use shortly after the surgery, leading to a high mortality rate within three to five years.

For experts, the infection manifests into two things: endocarditis and addiction. It is crucial to acknowledge that treating endocarditis alone will not yield long-term success. What holds the key is treating the underlying addiction and then moving on to treating the actual infection. 

Individuals who have undergone corrective surgery are also more likely to suffer from psychosocial comorbidities. A study showed that 66% of patients are prone to being arrested, incarcerated, or otherwise involved with the judicial system. Moreover, 25% are at risk of being homeless, and over 50% are at risk of being diagnosed with depression or anxiety.


What is the FDA’s response to the Suboxone controversy?

In 2022, the FDA issued a warning regarding the potential dental issues associated with buprenorphine (Suboxone). According to the FDA, dental problems are increasingly being linked to

the dissolvable sublingual film through medical research and reports. 

The FDA instructed manufacturers to include warnings regarding dental risks in both the prescribing information and the patient medication guide.

Are the Generic Withdrawal Symptoms Life-Threatening?

The symptoms, in general, include vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and muscle pain. The opioid withdrawal syndrome is temporary and, while it can be extremely uncomfortable in some cases, does not pose a risk to life.

Is Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome fatal?

After your newborn is diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), they will typically need to stay in the hospital for about 20 days to ensure their health before they can be discharged and go home. Occasionally, the treatment for NAS can extend for six months.

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