Opioid Dependencies

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When people think of opioid use problems or addictions, they may think of street-obtained, or “street” opioids, such as heroin or fentanyl. However, problematic opioid use can also include improperly taking prescribed opioid medications such as oxycodone, morphine or codeine, or taking an opioid medication that was not prescribed for you.

Opioids are a class of powerful drugs that are usually prescribed to treat severe pain. If opioids are abused, they can create feelings of intense pleasure or euphoria, but they can also lead to fatal overdose. Opioids are an effective medication when used as prescribed, but they carry a risk of addiction because of their powerful effects.

Who Can Get a Free Naloxone Kit?

You are eligible for a free kit if you are:

  • At risk of an opioid overdose
  • A family member, friend or other person able to help someone at risk of an opioid overdose
  • A client of a needle syringe/exchange program or hepatitis C program newly released from a correctional facility
  • Speak to one of our pharmacy team members about getting a Naloxone Kit for FREE

Signs & Symptoms?

Opioid addiction is defined by a group of signs, symptoms and behaviours that indicate a person is both physically and psychologically dependent on the substance. These include:

  • using over a longer period or using more than planned
  • wanting to quit or cut down, or trying unsuccessfully to quit
  • spending a lot of time and effort getting, using and recovering from opioids
  • experiencing cravings
  • failing to fulfil responsibilities at work, school or home as a result of opioid use
  • continuing to use opioids despite the negative social consequences caused by opioid use
  • giving up activities that were once enjoyable
  • using opioids in dangerous situations
  • needing to take more of the drug to get the same effect (tolerance, a sign of physical dependence)
  • feeling ill when opioid use suddenly stops (withdrawal, a sign of physical dependence)
  • crushing, snorting, smoking or injecting opioids
  • running out of prescription medications early
  • drawing on many sources for opioids (e.g., prescriptions from two or more physicians or both a prescription and street opioids)
  • showing signs of opioid intoxication (e.g., nodding off, pinpoint pupils).

Opioid addiction involves more than just physical dependence. For example, a person with cancer who is prescribed opioids for severe pain may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the medication, but is not addicted. Opioid addiction also involves psychological dependence. This means that the drug is so central to the person’s life that the need to keep using becomes a craving or compulsion, even if the person knows that using is harmful.

Cravings and increasing tolerance may lead the person to buy drugs on the street or go to more than one doctor to get the same drug. They may smoke, snort, crush or inject the drug in order to feel high faster and more intensely. This could affect their relationships with family members or friends, or cause a person to neglect their responsibilities.

Two main treatment options are available for opioid addiction:

  • opioid agonist therapies using methadone or buprenorphine 
  • addiction treatment counselling (e.g., withdrawal management, day treatment, mutual aid groups such as Narcotics Anonymous).

Methadone and buprenorphine are opioid medications that do not cause intoxication at the correct doses. When they are prescribed, they eliminate a person’s withdrawal symptoms, which may help them stabilize their life. Opioid addiction treatments usually involve a combination of opioid agonist therapies and addiction treatment counselling.

Naloxone Kits Available!

Naloxone (pronounced na-LOX-own, also known by the brand name Narcan) is a drug that can
temporarily reverse an opioid overdose. Opioids are drugs that are usually used to treat pain, but
some people use opioids to get high. Some commonly used opioids include:

  • Fentanyl
  • Morphine
  • Heroin
  • Methadone
  • Oxycodone

When someone overdoses on opioids, their breathing either slows or stops completely. If used
right away, naloxone can help them breathe normally and regain consciousness. Naloxone can
either be injected or given as a nasal spray.

We believe medication can cure!

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