(BPT) - Drug overdose deaths — driven by illicit opioids such as illicitly manufactured fentanyl — are on the rise in the United States and represent an urgent public health challenge.

For some individuals, the trajectory into opioid misuse begins with being prescribed an opioid to manage pain after surgery, to treat an injury, or to manage chronic pain. And while prescription opioid-involved overdose deaths have declined in recent years, prescription opioid misuse is a strong risk factor for future use of illicit opioids like heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl and for developing an opioid use disorder. Thus, preventing prescription opioid misuse remains an important part of the public health response to the opioid crisis.

Real stories

Anyone can become addicted to prescription opioids.

At the age of 19, Britton was prescribed opioids for an injury he sustained while serving in the U.S. Army. After struggling with opioid use disorder for 11 years, he credits a structured therapy program with helping him get into and stay in recovery. Now Britton hopes to use his story to prove to others like him that “light is at the end of the tunnel.”

Tessa had a similar experience, suffering a high school sports injury that led to being prescribed opioids and ultimately becoming addicted to these medications — which she used through her pregnancies. During her active addiction, she lost custody of her children and relapsed eight times but ultimately was able to make changes needed to sustain her recovery. Tessa now has her own treatment center and is supporting pregnant women who struggle with substance use.

This and other stories are part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Rx Awareness campaign. The campaign uses first-person testimonials to increase awareness that prescription opioids can be addictive and dangerous, increase awareness of effective recovery options, and reduce stigma.

Recovery is possible

Opioid use disorder is a medical condition, not a moral failing. It is a treatable disease where treatment approaches that involve medications as well as behavioral therapy and other recovery supports are most effective. Although no single treatment pathway works for everyone, individuals who receive medication-based treatment have substantially greater chances of stopping opioid use and having sustained recovery.

Treatment and prevention work

When we act early, we can prevent opioid use disorder and overdoses. Everyone can help, starting with increasing awareness about life-saving actions and encouraging people struggling with substance use and addiction to seek and engage in treatment.

According to the CDC, stigma surrounding addiction is a major barrier to seeking treatment. Like many other medical conditions, there are evidence-based treatments available, but stigma can impact how well treatment and prevention programs work. Friends and family can help reduce stigma and support loved ones in maintaining treatment plans and recovery. Also learning about the the signs of overdose and how to reverse it can save lives. Naloxone is a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose when administered in time. It is available without a prescription in most states.

A day for action

Aug. 31 marks International Overdose Awareness Day. In addition to raising awareness around a major public health issue, the annual observance provides an opportunity for family and friends to remember those who have died from drug overdose. Offering a list of worldwide events and shareable resources for preventing overdose in the community, this campaign inspires action.

Discover more stories of recovery and find resources to help you fight opioid addiction in your community at www.cdc.gov/rxawareness.

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