Simcoe Addiction and Mental Health

Painkiller Addiction, Opioid Addiction, Opiate Addiction, Opioid Crisis, Toronto Opioid Addiction Treatment

Zooming In: Opioid Use In Toronto

How do opioids and opiates become addictive?

The pathway to opioid use disorder can start from misuse of a prescription or from the illegal purchases made on the street.  The truth is anyone who utilizes opioids is at risk of developing an addiction. Opioids hold high addiction probability because of physiological reactions in the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system.

They can have different mechanisms of action depending on where they are in the body. In the brain, opioids can change someone’s perception and experience of pain. Meaning someone might feel the pain but in a way that doesn’t affect them. Within the spinal cord, opioids can block the transmission of pain messages between neurons and prevent the brain from receiving these signals.  In the brain stem, opioids act directly on the respiratory system to slow down breathing, potentially leading to respiratory depression.  Within the digestive tract, opioids can cause constipation, nausea and vomiting.

Opioid Receptors

Within the different areas mentioned above, we have different types of opioid receptors. The receptors can be thought of as a lock and the opioids can be thought of as the key.  When the opioids (key) bind to the various receptors (lock) in the body, they stimulate all systems at once and this results in the release of certain feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters; endorphins, endomorphins, dynorphins, and enkephalins. The activation of these signalling molecules results in pain relief, euphoria and relaxation; sensations in the body that become quite enticing.

Although we have naturally occurring opioid receptors within our brain and body,  overuse of these exogenous substances causes our receptors to go into overdrive and the effects are much more intense. This ends with our body slowing its own production of endorphins, relying on outside sources.  People will begin to increase the quantity and the frequency of opioid intake to achieve the same relief as before. Doctors are acutely aware of opioid addiction and may refuse to continue the prescription or increase the dose leaving the patient to search elsewhere.  At this point,  opioids can be found on the streets but may be laced with illegal ingredients that may result in fatalities.

Zooming in: Opioid Use Statistics for Toronto

When taking a closer look at the opioid crisis in Canada, the province of Toronto has been having a drastic increase in fatalities.  Statistics from 2014 show that among Toronto students in grades 7-12,  11% reported using pain relief pills, such as Percocet, Demerol, Oxycontin, or Tylenol #3 without a prescription.  It’s very alarming what’s happening with our youth.  Unfortunately, the pandemic didn’t help.
In a report from Tableau Public, updated April 21, 2022, since the COVID 19 pandemic the average monthly number of fatal calls attended by Paramedic services has doubled since March 2020.

Preliminary data reveals there were 169 confirmed and probable opioid-related deaths in Simcoe-Muskoka last year- a 25% increase over 2020.

One way we mitigate these unfortunate events is to take preventative action by having a deep understanding of what puts someone at risk for developing opioid use addiction.

Risk Factors:

Statistics from Health Canada show that the opioid crisis is continuing to grow and that young Canadians aged 15-24 are the fastest-growing population requiring hospital care from opioid overdoses.  As the data indicates, opioid usage is going to continue to rise over the next few years. It is essential for trained professionals to act in a preventative manner. Knowing the risk factors associated with opioid misuse and addiction can help. The known risk factors include: 

  • poverty
  • unemployment
  • family history of substance abuse, 
  • personal history of substance abuse
  • young age
  • history of criminal activity or legal problems including DUIs
  • regular contact with high-risk people or high-risk environments
  • problems with past employers 
  • family members and friends
  • risk-taking or thrill-seeking behaviour
  • heavy tobacco use
  • history of severe depression or anxiety
  • stressful circumstances
  • prior drug or alcohol rehabilitation

It’s important for Addiction specialists to continue to educate the public about the implications for those that are most at risk, so as a community we may have the ability to end the opioid crisis.

If you or a loved one have any questions about what can be done about opioid use disorder, reach out to us, we’d be more than happy to help however we can.


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