Opioids are drugs that are either derived from opiates (drugs created directly from opium, such as morphine or codeine) or chemically related to opiates or opium. Examples of opioids include prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone and heroin.
What is opioid dependence?
A person is generally considered opioid-dependent when two things occur:
More and more, opioid dependence is being accepted as a chronic disease, much like high blood pressure or diabetes.
Yet unlike these other diseases, opioid dependence carries a very powerful stigma. (To illustrate: Imagine that you are interviewing for a new job. Would you think twice before asking whether the company's health plan covers costs related to your insulin dependence? Would you also not hesitate to ask about coverage of costs related to your opioid dependence?)
This stigma is rooted in the centuries-old belief that opioid dependence is a moral failure. It was only within the last 20 years that researchers began to realize opioid dependence was a medical condition caused by changes in the brain—changes that didn't go away, sometimes for months, after patients stopped using opioids.
Today, opioid dependence in the United States is growing at unprecedented rates. Sadly, fear of the stigma associated with treatment keeps many people from seeking help.
Removing the stigma of opioid dependence is critical to helping patients receive proper care. A key part of achieving this goal is wider recognition that opioid dependence is a medical—not a moral—issue.
The information here is offered to help promote better understanding of opioid dependence as a medical condition.