Knoxville medical professionals offer possible explanation for opioid misuse

A September 2016 study states that there are more opioid prescriptions than there are people in the state of Tennessee.

Written by Payton Boyd

The adolescent use of tobacco and alcohol could be linked to future misuse of opioids, according to medical professional Bill Lee.

Cornerstone of Recovery  interventionist Bill Lee said every addict begins their use in nearly the same way, primarily with adolescent use of alcohol and tobacco.

“Opioid misuse is not something that people traditionally use in a vacuum, there is usually some kind of using history to that.”

Opioids are drugs that are synthetically produced to have similar effects to opiates that are derived directly from the poppy plant.

“The vast majority of people start with substances other than opioids, and as they progress through the addiction progress their peer group starts to change…with other people comes other chemical availability,” Lee said.

Young adults can be introduced to opioids medically following surgeries, according to Lee. If the same people who are introduced to these prescriptions have a history of addiction, their use of prescription opioids could get out of control.

Lee stated that the illness of addiction isn’t really about the drug, but about the brain.

Opioid misuse causes the brain to create more opiate receptors than a non-user has, which causes the user to have to use more of the substance to plug extra receptors.

“Prescription opioids on the street are getting incredibly expensive, with one opioid pill costing upwards of forty to fifty dollars,” Lee said. “Somebody can get one bag of heroin for ten dollars, causing an attraction to heroin.”

According to Lee, a medication called Buprenorphine exists to help opioid and opiate addicts detox, but insurance companies won’t pay for the medication because the opioid and opiate detox process isn’t lethal.

“Opioids act as a central nervous system depressant, which can cause slurred speech as a result of the slowing of communication between the central nervous system and the exterior parts of the body,” said Rebecca Juarez, advisor of UT’s Rocky Top Recovery Group.

According to Juarez, street heroin has a similar structure to prescription opioids, which causes overdoses to look similar for these two substance groups.

“Opiates are substances that are derived from the opium plant, so those are things like heroin…Opioids are synthetic, so they are developed to chemically appear like an opiate.”

Pellissippi student Brandon King said that the use of opioids is more prevalent in the college setting because of the introduction to a more diverse group of people who come from different backgrounds.

According to King, prescription drug addiction starts because it is not difficult to obtain the medication.

“A patient seeking treatment for pain can walk into almost any clinic and receive medication for said pain… I went and had minor surgery on my leg where I did not need pain pills for recovery, but the doctor went on to order a large prescription of painkillers,” he said. “Doctors should be held accountable for doing this.”

Featured image by Payton Boyd

Edited by Taylor Owens