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What is Opioid Use Disorder (OUD)?

First things first: opioid use disorder (OUD) is not a moral failing, a choice, or a character flaw. OUD, also referred to as opioid addiction, is an illness that involves the chronic use of opioids. Source.

Brain imaging studies from people with substance use disorders show changes in areas of the brain that are critical to judgment, decision making, learning and memory, and behavior control. Scientists believe that these changes alter the way the brain works and may help explain the compulsive and destructive behaviors of addiction.

A promising student might see his grades slip. A bubbly social butterfly might suddenly have trouble getting out of bed. A trustworthy sibling might start stealing or lying. Behavioral changes like these are directly linked to a changing brain.

Addiction also creates cravings. These cravings can be painful, constant, and distracting. Withdrawal from substances is a painful, whole-body experience. Once someone is addicted, responding to cravings and avoiding withdrawal become their most important needs.

It’s not about your background, where you grew up, or how much money you make. Addiction can happen to anyone. Still, researchers have identified what kinds of experiences and biological circumstances put some people at greater risk than others. Source.

Stigma and punishment are simply not effective ways to heal a person’s addiction.

A person can’t undo the effects opioids have had on their body chemistry through sheer willpower. Like other chronic illnesses, such as asthma or type 2 diabetes, ongoing management of OUD is required for long-term recovery. And there are plenty of evidence-based solutions that can help people with OUD get there.

OUD Stigma & Why it matters 

Addiction stigma and discrimination experienced by those with OUD is one of the largest drivers of the opioid crisis, independently leading to tens of thousands of preventable deaths each and every single year. It prevents many from seeking treatment, erodes self-worth, fosters social isolation, and prevents the use of life-saving medications.

Stigma around addiction often overlaps with other forms of stigma, including discrimination based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation, or occupation. In fact, seven of the nine commonly cited drivers of the opioid epidemic are either partially or entirely driven by stigma.* 

*Source: Shatterproof. 2020. A Movement to End Stigma. Accessed November 30, 2020

What are opioids?*

Opioids are either derived from or chemically similar to compounds found in opium poppies. Opioids include:

  • Medications that can be used appropriately by doctors to relieve pain, including:
  • Prescription painkillers like oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine, and codeine
  • Synthetic fentanyl
  • Heroin and illegally manufactured fentanyl

While prescription opioids can be medically necessary to treat certain types of pain, they can also be misused a number of ways. They can be taken orally as a pill, but in higher dosages than prescribed, or without a prescription at all. They can also be crushed up and inhaled or injected. Non-prescription opioids, like heroin and fentanyl, can be inhaled, injected, or smoked.

*Source: Shatterproof - Substance Types and Effects: Opioids

What happens when someone overdoses on opioids?

During an opioid overdose, a person's breathing becomes dangerously slow, and then stops completely. With the opioid suppressing neurological signals, the heart rate slows down, too. If you spot these signs, someone may be experiencing an overdose*:

  • Blue or grey lips or fingertips
  • Snoring or gurgling
  • Pinpoint pupils 
  • Unresponsiveness or severe sleepiness, meaning you can't wake the person up with a loud voice or a firm rub on the center of their chest
  • Breathing problems, including slow or shallow breathing
  • Floppy arms or legs

*Source: Shatterproof: How to Reverse an Opioid Overdose with Naloxone

How to Respond to an Opioid Overdose and Use Naloxone

Naloxone is a safe, FDA-approved medication that has been proven to reverse opioid overdoses in minutes. Naloxone is a proven lifesaver if you act immediately. It can reverse the effects of an overdose and is available at most local pharmacies without a prescription. It lasts 30-90 minutes, so it's important that you contact 911.

Individuals administering naloxone or seeking emergency medical care for someone experiencing an overdose have broad protections under the law in Kentucky. Source.

If you think someone is experiencing and overdose, here is how to respond*:

  1. Try to wake the person up by yelling their name and rubbing the middle of their chest with your knuckles (sternum rub).
  2. Call 9-1-1. Indicate the person has stopped breathing or is struggling to breathe. 
  3. Administer Naloxone (Narcan or Evzio). See the below training on how to do so.
  4. Make sure nothing is in the person's mouth that could be blocking their breathing. If breathing has stopped or is very slow, begin rescue breathing.

*Source: Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy - Stop Overdoses

How to use Naloxone

UNSHAME Kentucky is brought to you by the Kentucky Opioid Response Effort (KORE) in partnership with Shatterproof. The campaign is funded by the Commonwealth of Kentucky's Cabinet for Health and Family Services Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities.

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