Learn About Opioid Use Disorder

What is the definition of Opioid Use Disorder?

Opioid-based drugs include morphine, oxycodone, and synthetic (man-made) opioid narcotics, such as fentanyl. They are prescribed to treat pain after surgery or a dental procedure. Sometimes, they are used to treat severe cough or diarrhea. The illegal drug heroin is also an opioid. When abused, opioids cause a person to feel relaxed and intensely happy (euphoria). In short, the drugs are used to get high.

Opioid intoxication is a condition in which you're not only high from using the drug, but you also have body-wide symptoms that can make you ill and impaired.

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What are the alternative names for Opioid Use Disorder?

Intoxication - opioids; Opioid abuse - intoxication; Opioid use - intoxication

What are the causes of Opioid Use Disorder?

Opioid intoxication may occur when a health care provider prescribes an opioid, but:

  • The provider doesn't know the person is already taking another opioid at home.
  • The person has a health problem, such as a liver or kidney problem, that may easily result in intoxication.
  • The provider prescribes a sleep medicine (sedative) in addition to the opioid.
  • The provider doesn't know that another provider already prescribed an opioid.

In people who use opioids to get high, intoxication may be caused by:

  • Using too much of the drug
  • Using an opioid with certain other drugs, such as sleep medicine or alcohol
  • Taking the opioid in ways not normally used, such as smoked or inhaled through the nose (snorted)
What are the symptoms of Opioid Use Disorder?

Symptoms depend on how much of the drug is taken.

Symptoms of opioid intoxication can include:

  • Altered mental status, such as confusion, delirium, or decreased awareness or responsiveness
  • Breathing problems (breathing may slow and eventually stop)
  • Extreme sleepiness or loss of alertness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Small pupils
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What are the current treatments for Opioid Use Disorder?

The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. The person may receive:

  • Breathing support, including oxygen, or a tube that goes through the mouth into the lungs and attachment to a breathing machine
  • IV (fluids given through a vein)
  • Medicine called naloxone (Evzio, Narcan) to block the effect of the opioid on the central nervous system
  • Other medicines as needed

Since the effect of the naloxone is often short, the health care team will monitor the patient for 4 to 6 hours in the emergency department. People with moderate to severe intoxications will likely be admitted to the hospital for 24 to 48 hours.

A mental health evaluation is needed if the person is suicidal.

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What is the outlook (prognosis) for Opioid Use Disorder?

Many factors determine the short- and long-term outcome after opioid intoxication. Some of these are:

  • The degree of poisoning, for example, if the person stopped breathing, and for how long
  • How often the drugs are used
  • Effect of impurities mixed in with illegal substances
  • Injuries that occur as a result of the drug use
  • Underlying medical conditions
What are the possible complications of Opioid Use Disorder?

Health problems that may occur include any of the following:

  • Permanent lung damage
  • Seizures, tremors
  • Reduced ability to think clearly
  • Unsteadiness and difficulty walking
  • Infections or even permanent damage of the organs as a result of injection use of the drug
What are the latest Opioid Use Disorder Clinical Trials?
Pragmatic, Randomized, Blinded Trial to Shorten Pharmacologic Treatment of Newborns With Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome (NOWS)

Summary: The objective of this study is to evaluate the efficacy of a rapid wean intervention compared with a slow-wean intervention in reducing the number of days of opioid treatment from the first dose of weaning to cessation of opioid among infants receiving an opioid (defined as morphine or methadone) as the primary treatment for neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NOWS).

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Yoga for Chronic Low Back Pain: A Type 1 Hybrid Implementation-Effectiveness Pragmatic Randomized Control Trial in the Cleveland Clinic Employee Health Plan

Summary: This study uses clinical trial and implementation science methodology to specifically assess the effectiveness of yoga into the management of chronic low back pain (cLBP) within the Cleveland Clinic Employee Health Plan. The study will use a type 1 hybrid effectiveness-implementation design, which tests a clinical intervention while collecting data on implementation. Studying and implementing evid...

What are the Latest Advances for Opioid Use Disorder?
Maintenance on extended-release naltrexone is associated with reduced injection opioid use among justice-involved persons with opioid use disorder.
Deep brain stimulation for opioid use disorder: A systematic review of preclinical and clinical evidence.
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Morphine versus methadone for neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome: a randomized controlled pilot study.
Who are the sources who wrote this article ?

Published Date: May 17, 2021
Published By: Jesse Borke, MD, CPE, FAAEM, FACEP, Attending Physician at Kaiser Permanente, Orange County, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

What are the references for this article ?

Aronson JK. Opioid receptor agonists. In: Aronson JK, ed. Meyler's Side Effects of Drugs. 16th ed. Waltham, MA: Elsevier; 2016:348-380.

National Institute on Drug Abuse website. Opioids. www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/opioids. Accessed July 29, 2021.

National Institute on Drug Abuse website. What are the medical complications of chronic heroin use? www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-medical-complications-chronic-heroin-use. Updated June 2021. Accessed July 29, 2021.

Nikolaides JK, Thompson TM. Opioids. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 156.