What is the role of pharmacological factors in the etiology of opioid abuse?

Updated: Jun 21, 2018
  • Author: David W Dixon, DO; Chief Editor: Glen L Xiong, MD  more...
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Opioids are strongly reinforcing agents because of the euphoric effects and reported ability to reduce anxiety, increase self esteem, and help coping with daily problems. Most opioids associated with abuse and dependence are mu-agonists, such as heroin, morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and meperidine. Some partial mu-agonists, such as buprenorphine, or some that have no mu-agonism, such as pentazocine, also can possess reinforcing properties. Rapid development of physical dependence and a protracted abstinence syndrome are unique to opioid use and can make abstinence difficult.

Of note, more than half of persons taking 90 days of opioid therapy over a 6-month period remain on opioids years later. Opioid continuation was strongly associated with prior opioid exposure, daily opioid doses of 120 mg or more of morphine equivalent per day, and possible misuse; however the data from which these associations did not include clinical measures of pain or disease severity. [26]

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