Opioid Myth vs. Fact: How Much Do You Know About Opioid Abuse?

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Opioid use is spreading rampantly across the country, and we’re no strangers to its consequences in West Virginia.

With over 70,000 deaths in 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the number of fatal overdoses in West Virginia had increased more than four times the 1999 total. And more than two-thirds of those deaths were linked to opioids.

One culprit in the steady rise of opioid fatalities is misinformation—a weapon that can be deadly and prevent people from getting help. At GameChanger, our mission is to dismantle that weapon by educating youths, parents, and communities and stopping misinformation right where it starts.

So let’s dive in. How much do you think you know about opioid use? Here are a few common opioid myths.

MYTH #1: If I’m prescribed medication, I can’t get addicted to it. 

FACT: Even if a doctor prescribes you pain medication, you can still become addicted. 

You don’t have to start taking opioids with bad intentions to succumb to addiction. In fact, it takes as little as five days of use to develop an addiction disorder. The risks increase with prolonged or improper use.

If your healthcare provider offers or suggests pain medication, make sure to only take them as prescribed. Be open with your doctor about your concerns and discuss any personal or family history of substance abuse or addiction. With your doctor’s guidance, you may decide to go a different route for pain management—one that carries less risk for addiction.

MYTH #2: Opioid addiction is obvious. 

FACT: It’s true there may be some signs of addiction, but not in all cases. Drug abuse and addiction can go unseen, and it can happen to anyone. It’s possible there are folks you cross paths with in daily life who struggle with addiction silently.

It’s important to know the signs, while also understanding that some people are able to “hide it” rather well from others. If you have a friend or loved one who becomes distant, withdraws from normal activities, or suddenly changes their behavior or appearance, reach out and offer support.

MYTH #3: Opioid addiction can’t happen to me.

FACT: Opioid addiction doesn’t discriminate. Individuals of any race, gender, social group, or financial standing can succumb to the disease. This means you, your friends, family members, and anyone who takes opioids—whether prescribed or not—can become addicted.

Scientists are still researching why some people who take opioids are able to stop, while others find themselves spiraling down the path of addiction. So far, experts believe some individuals have genes that predispose them to addictive behavior, increasing their likelihood of developing the disease. It’s why you hear so many stories of teens “experimenting” with friends and being the one in the group who becomes dependent within days of use.

The best way to prevent opioid addiction is by never starting in the first place. 

MYTH #4: Opioids are the strongest and most effective treatment for chronic pain.

FACT: Opioids are not the only option for pain relief.

It’s true that in some cases—like recovering from a major injury or cancer treatment— opioids can provide appropriate, life-altering relief. But for the most part, there are other options to explore that will decrease pain.

From non-opioid pain medications to holistic pain management options, pain control alternatives include:

  • Acetaminophen or Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Physical Therapy
  • Psychological Therapy and Counseling
  • Massage
  • Acupuncture
  • Exercise and Stretching 
  • Chiropractic Care
  • Injections or Nerve Blocks
  • Surgery

MYTH #5: Those addicted to opioids just need more willpower to quit.

FACT: If fighting the opioid crisis were that simple, statistics wouldn’t be as alarming as they are now.

Willpower alone doesn’t “cure” addiction. This myth is rooted in the belief that addiction is nothing more than a weakness in character. In reality, it’s a very real disease that alters your brain function.

Improper or long-term use of opioids, according to Yale Medicine, changes your brain’s reward system. In other words, activities that typically bring you joy or satisfaction no longer do. Opioids become the only reward your brain recognizes and you’ll soon need more and more to feel the “high” associated with opioid use.

Be a GameChanger in West Virginia

If you’ve learned something new about opioid use and addiction, spread the word. Take the information you have and let it guide you in your own decision making and in learning how to support others. If you or someone you know needs help, here’s where to start

About Game Changer WV

Created in 2018, GameChanger is a student-powered movement with focus on substance misuse prevention among youths. We connect students, educators, and communities with education, training, coaching, and support services to prevent opioid and other drug use before it starts.

Visit our resources to learn more.

SOURCES:

Overdose Prevention Investment Snapshot. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2019.

Non-Opioid Treatment. American Society of Anesthesiologists.

3 Major Myths About Opioid Addiction. Chen, Jennifer. Yale Medicine. 2017.

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