Statistics published in 2021 by the UNSW Sydney National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre noted several statistics surrounding drug-induced deaths in Australia for 2019. These findings concluded that of all drug-related deaths in Australia, 61% of them were a result of opioids. For the past two decades in Australia, opioids have been listed as the primary drug cited in drug-related fatalities. In 2019, opioids were the underlying cause of over 1,100 deaths, with nearly 900 of them being unintentional.
The Opioid Consumption Landscape
The opioid consumption landscape is a frightening one worldwide. For several years countries, cities, and other municipalities have faced an opioid epidemic. Many of the world’s large manufacturers of opioid-based pharmaceuticals such as oxycodone have been the center of lawsuits over the past two decades.
According to a study published in 2021, there are currently ten opioids that have been approved in Australia by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, encapsulating more than 120 different formulations. This study noted that between 1997 and 2018, the number of patients being prescribed “strong opioids” increased 11-fold from nearly 28,300 patients to 332,307 patients. The number of medical practitioners prescribing opioids in Australia also quadrupled during that time.
Similar statistics can be seen in the US where, in 2020, nearly 143 million prescriptions were written for opioids. However, at the height of the epidemic in the US in 2012, 81 opioid prescriptions were written for every 100 people.
How Opioids Work and Why They Present a Risk
Opioids are commonly prescribed for pain management. Unfortunately, they have been proven time and time again to be highly addictive, habit forming, and extremely dangerous. This is because of how opioids work. For opioids to provide the pain-relieving benefits that they are prescribed for, they attach to proteins on nerve cells throughout the body known as opioid receptors. These receptors are common in the brain, gut, and spinal cord, along with other parts of the body. When opioids bind to these proteins, they block pain signals that are being sent from the body to the brain via the spinal cord. Because opioids directly affect signaling within the spinal cord and brain, they can have drastic effects on, among other things, our ability to breathe, and when taken in abundance, can lead to fatality through respiratory distress when these receptors become overloaded.
Signs of Opioid Overconsumption and Addiction
Common signs of opioid overconsumption or opioid overdose include, but are not limited to, the following:
- • Altered mental state such as extreme delirium or confusion
- • Breathing issues
- • Loss of alertness
- • Nausea and vomiting
- • Unresponsiveness
Signs of opioid addiction include, but are not limited to, the following:
- • Abandoning responsibilities
- • Agitation
- • Anxiety and/or depression
- • Consumption of opioids for euphoria rather than prescribed intention
- • Lower motivation
- • Mood swings
- • Poor decision making
When Should You Seek Help for Opioid Consumption?
When utilised as prescribed for short periods of time, opioids offer substantial benefits. However, with prolonged use, misuse, and overconsumption, there are many risks to consuming these pharmaceuticals. If you experience any of the signs and symptoms of opioid overconsumption as listed above, it is highly advisable that you seek medical evaluation immediately. Aside from fatality, overconsumption of opioids can lead to a wide variety of other medical issues that can cause long-term damage.
The Endocannabinoid System & Opioid Consumption
Within the body, there is a system known as the endocannabinoid system that includes cannabinoid receptors that work with cannabinoids produced by the body naturally, as well as those found in cannabis and hemp plants. Just as opioids attach to receptors, cannabinoids do the same to cannabinoid receptors in a very similar manner. However, an overload of cannabinoids to this system will not cause respiratory or other potentially fatal issues.
Numerous studies have looked at the efficiency of cannabinoid therapies for reducing pain and have provided very positive conclusions. Not only does it appear that cannabinoids may be able to provide pain-relieving properties to patients, but it also appears that the utilisation of cannabinoids may help to reduce opioid intake in chronic opioid users.
A 2020 article published in the Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research Journal set out to determine how cannabis may be able to be utilised as an alternative or in conjunction with opioid treatment for intermittent and chronic opioid users. The study concluded the following:
“In this long-term observational study, cannabis use worked as an alternative to prescription opioids in just over half of patients with low back pain and as an adjunct to diminish use in some chronic opioid users.”
An analysis published in Med Page Today noted a correlation between the number of cannabis dispensaries available for access and a reduction in opioid-related fatalities. This included a 17% reduction in opioid fatalities where access to cannabis dispensaries increased.
Traditional Treatments for Opioid Overconsumption and Addiction
If an opioid overdose occurs, medications such as naloxone are often administered as they have been proven to reverse the effects of opioids. Additionally, if breathing is impaired, many times, breathing machines are employed. In the event of opioid addiction, there are several different types of therapies that can be employed. Most often, patients work with rehabilitation professionals in order to detoxify their bodies of opioids. This often includes the gradual discontinuation of opioids, opioid replacement therapy, and counseling to address underlying concerns that could be causing the addiction. In cases of chronic opioid addiction, sometimes patients are prescribed other narcotics to help promote sleep, dull the senses, and help with pain.
Plant Therapies for Opioid Consumption – Clinical Trial Synopsis
Researchers with Murdoch University and the Perth Pain Management Centre are currently recruiting patients with chronic non-cancer-related pain for a study that will look at the efficiency of medicinal cannabis in relieving pain. You can learn more about this study or register your interest learn more about this study or register your interest here.
To see if you are eligible for plant-based therapies, you can book a telehealth appointment with one of our specialist doctors through Cannatrek Access.