How will you know if someone you care about is abusing opioids? Do you know the signs of opioid drug abuse? Do you know if the person is using illicit opioids, such as heroin or misusing prescription opioids? There are common and noticeable signs of opioid abuse. Continue reading to learn what they are and what to do when you observe them.
Illicit Opioid Abuse Signs
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that opioids are a class of drugs, which include heroin, an illegal narcotic, and prescription drugs. Heroin is made from morphine, a natural substance derived from the seed pod of various opium poppy plants grown naturally in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Columbia, and Mexico. Heroin can be a white or brown powder or a black sticky tar-like substance.
It is a federally controlled substance classified under Schedule I, which means it has no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.
Heroin can be abused in different ways. It is most commonly injected into the veins. It can also be sniffed, snorted, or smoked.
There are some specific, physical signs to notice if someone is abusing heroin:
- Constricted pupils
- Dry mouth
- Constant itching
- Fading in and out of consciousness
- Slowed breathing
- Flushed skin
- Cloudy thinking
- Arms and legs have a heavy feeling
- “Track marks” on arms from injection
- Wearing long sleeves in hot weather
The paraphernalia that someone abusing heroin might be noticeable or hidden. It can include needles, pipes, small spoons, straws, or tubes.
Needles are used to inject the drug into the veins. Pipes, usually glass, are used to smoke heroin. Small Spoons are used to dissolve heroin before injecting it. Straws or paper tubes, such as a rolled-up dollar bill, are used to inhale heroin in powder form.
Prescription Opioid Abuse Signs
Prescription opioids are narcotics used to alleviate moderate to severe pain. They can be crushed in tablet form to make a powder to inhale or mixed with water to inject.
According to NIDA, the most commonly abused ones are:
- Hydrocodone – (Vicodin®)
- Oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percocet®)
- Oxymorphone – (Opana®)
- Codeine – A common synthetic opioid found in some cough syrups
- Fentanyl – Prescription fentanyl comes in lozenges or patches. However, illicit fentanyl can be mixed with heroin or replaced for heroin to stretch a drug dealer’s supply of heroin. It is 80 times more powerful than heroin. A tiny amount can be fatal.
These behavioral signs might be observed, as stated by the Mayo Clinic:
- Taking more than the prescribed dose to feel the “euphoric” effect
- Taking them “just in case” pain might return
- Excessive mood swings that go from elation to hostility
- “Doctor shopping” to get another prescription to keep as “backup”
- Using someone else’s prescription
- A change in sleep patterns
- Making bad decisions to get the drug, including putting themselves or someone else in danger
The symptoms of opioid use disorder might not be recognizable right away. People who abuse opioids are probably making every effort to hide their use.
The more common and apparent signs of opioid abuse, as noted by Johns Hopkins Medicine, are:
- Lack of hygiene
- Changes in exercise habits
- Decreased sex drive
- Weight loss
- Isolation from family or friends
- Stealing from family, friends or businesses
- New financial difficulties
- Quality of life changes that affect home, work, or school, like losing a job
Opioid Abuse Withdrawal Signs
If someone you know exhibits these signs of opioid abuse, they are experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Note that people who have a minor dependence on prescription opioids can feel these symptoms, too:
- Muscle aches
- Physical and mental discomfort that is extreme
Opioid abuse has been the scourge of the U.S. for decades. Despite federal, state, and local government efforts to curb it, it remains a significant problem. It may be a problem for a family member, friend, or loved one. Recognize the signs and take steps today to help someone you care about become free from opioid abuse.