Breaking the Opioid Cycle

The United States is in the grips of an opioid crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the National Institutes of Health estimate that over 128 people die daily from overdosing on opioid class drugs. In the last decade alone more than 750,000 Americans have died from overdoses related to opioids. 

Opioid Basics

Before we begin to examine the possible methods to break the cycle of opioid addiction and reduce the number of Americans that are dying from these medications, let’s take a closer look at what opioids are and how they became an issue in the first place. 


Opioids are a class of painkilling drugs that can either be prescribed by a doctor or found illegally outside of the healthcare system. Opioids include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others. 


 Many people who become addicted to opioids have a legitimate prescription to the painkillers due to a medical condition, surgery, or other long-term chronic health reason. Sadly, many of these people misuse the medication or at the very least take the medication in ways other than directed. 


Opioid side effects can include drowsiness, constipation, fast, slow, or irregular heartbeat, nausea and vomiting, itchiness, sweating, addiction, overdose, and even death. Many who experience these symptoms of misuse tend to not report to a doctor or healthcare worker. 

Medical Response to Break the Addiction

In response to these startling numbers the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is focusing its efforts on five major priorities:

  1. improving access to treatment and recovery services
  2. promoting use of overdose-reversing drugs
  3. strengthening our understanding of the epidemic through better public health surveillance
  4. providing support for cutting-edge research on pain and addiction
  5. advancing better practices for pain management

In addition to these methods, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health have begun working with pharmaceutical companies as well as the public at large to educate healthcare workers, pharmacies, families, and relatives about the dangers of the addiction to opioids. 

Together with pharmaceutical companies, the CDC and NIH is working toward a public education campaign about the power of opioids and the importance of using and disposing of them properly. They have also been working toward safe, effective, non-addictive strategies to manage chronic pain, along with the creation of new, innovative medications and technologies to treat opioid use disorders. 

For more information regarding preventing opioid addictions and resources check out the prevention guide from the CDC and the NIH initiative, Helping to End Addiction Long-termSM Initiative (HEAL).