Sarah Wakeman, MD, FASAM, Medical Director, Massachusetts General Hospital Substance Use Disorder Initiative
Posts by Sarah Wakeman, MD, FASAM, Medical Director, Massachusetts General Hospital Substance Use Disorder Initiative
Unintentional opioid overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. These drugs are prescribed to patients to help relieve pain, but overdoses happen because opioids can also depress breathing, sometimes stopping it altogether. But naloxone, also called Narcan, can help reverse the effects of an overdose. If doctors prescribe naloxone at the same time as opioids, overdose deaths may decrease.
The challenges of drug addiction are compounded by stigmatizing language and incorrect perceptions about the medications used in addiction treatment. Viewing addiction as a disease and likening it to other chronic diseases can help remove the negative connotations from the illness.
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid. It is far more potent — and potentially more dangerous — than heroin and morphine. Overdose deaths related to fentanyl are on the rise. The drug is cheaper than heroin and recently is being used to dilute heroin or substitute for it. Users may be unaware that they are taking this potent drug, or may even seek its intense high. People at risk from using fentanyl can be treated successfully with therapies used for other opioid use disorders, but taking steps to prevent overdose are critical until a person is ready to seek care.