Yale Medicine experts discuss three major myths about opioid addiction that keep people from providing and seeking the best care possible.
It is no longer news that the U.S. faces an ongoing opioid addiction epidemic. Statistics and stories abound highlighting the scope of the crisis, but more can be done to address the issue.
Between 2015 and 2016, drug overdose deaths went from 33,095 to 59,000, the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States. That number is expected to continue unabated for the next several years.
First and foremost, it is imperative to define "opioid use disorder":
Someone who is prescribed opioid medications for pain for prolonged periods may develop tolerance, which means they need a higher dose to get pain relief. Or they may experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the medication. But these are not considered cases of opioid addiction. Opioid addiction, or technically “opioid use disorder,” is defined as loss of control over use of opioids. This means that the person continues to use opioids despite negative consequences or is unable to stop using opioids despite wanting to.
The 3 Major Myths
Opioid addiction is a sign of weak character:
"Some people think that an opioid addiction is just psychological or a weakness of character, and that people who are addicted simply don’t have the willpower to stop. But it’s more complicated than that. Long-time use of opioids in an addictive way actually alters brain functioning."
The best way to beat the addiction is without medication:
"Research shows that medication-based treatments are the most effective treatment. Opioid use disorder is a medical condition just like depression, diabetes or hypertension, and just like those conditions, it is most effectively treated with a combination of medication and counseling."
It's fine to call people "addicts", "junkies", or "users":
"Negative terms such as “addict”, “user”, “junkie”, and phrases such as “needs to get clean” contribute to stigma against people with opioid use disorder and create barriers to accessing effective treatment. This can ultimately contribute to overdose. When we talk about people with diabetes, we don’t talk about them being “dirty,” we talk about their sugars.
Studies have shown that people who were referred to as “substance users” were more likely to be considered a threat or be responsible for their condition, whereas people who were referred to as having “substance use disorder” were more likely to be seen as needing help. This is a really key component to getting people into treatment and stemming the opioid crisis. A person is not defined by their disease."