Opioids, Addiction, and Substance Use Disorder

What are opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others.

What does heroin or heroin paraphernalia look like?

To learn more about this topic, view the Spotting Drugs and Paraphernalia page.

What is drug addiction?

Addiction is a chronic brain disease that includes a person not being able to control the impulse to seek and use drugs, regardless of harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain, including its structure and how it works. These brain changes can last for a long time and can lead to harmful and self-destructive behaviors.

Addiction is a chronic disease similar to other chronic diseases such as type II diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. While sometimes people choose behaviors that have undesirable effects, no one chooses to develop an addiction or to develop heart disease.

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2016

What is substance use disorder?

Substance use disorder is a chronic brain disease that can cause impairment, risky use, and tolerance and withdrawal. People who have a substance use disorder may have an impaired ability to exert self-control. In addition, the areas of their brains responsible for judgement, decision making, learning, memory, and behavior control may have physically changed, which can explain compulsive and risky behaviors.

While you may commonly hear the term “addiction” being used, it is not considered a specific diagnosis by clinicians. In 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) was updated, where substance abuse and substance dependence were replaced with a single category called substance use disorder. Before someone is diagnosed with substance use disorder, they are evaluated based on four types of symptoms: impaired control, social impairment, risky use, and pharmacological criteria (i.e., tolerance and withdrawal).

There are many different kinds of substance use disorders – the most common include alcohol use disorder, tobacco use disorder, cannabis use disorder, stimulant use disorder, hallucinogen use disorder, and opioid use disorder.

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2016


Can substance use disorder be treated successfully?

Yes. As per the National Institute on Drug Abuse, substance use disorder is a chronic disease that can be managed successfully. Research shows that combining behavioral therapy with medications, where available, is the best way to ensure success for most patients. Treatment approaches must be tailored to address each patient’s drug use patterns and drug-related medical, psychiatric, and social problems.

If someone relapses, does it mean treatment has failed?

No. As per the National Institute on Drug Abuse, because addiction and substance use disorder is a chronic condition, relapsing to drug use is not only possible, but also likely. Relapse rates are similar to those for other well-characterized chronic medical illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma, which also have both physiological and behavioral components. Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply imbedded behaviors. When a person who is addicted lapses back to drug use, it means that treatment needs to be reinstated or adjusted, or that alternate treatment is needed.

Where can I find treatment?

Visit the Treatment and Recovery page to learn tips to finding effective treatment providers, locate treatment providers, and find support groups.

What is medication assisted treatment?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is the use of medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a “whole-patient” approach to the treatment of substance use disorders. Research shows that a combination of medication and therapy can successfully treat these disorders, and for some people struggling with addiction, MAT can help sustain recovery.

MAT is primarily used for the treatment of addiction to opioids such as heroin and prescription pain relievers that contain opiates. The prescribed medication operates to normalize brain chemistry, block the euphoric effects of alcohol and opioids, relieve physiological cravings, and normalize body functions without the negative effects of the abused drug.

To find a list of treatment providers in Illinois that provide MAT, visit SAMHSA’s directory. For more information about MAT, visit SAMHSA.

Naloxone and Overdose Response

What is naloxone? 

Naloxone (sometimes referred to by one of its brand names ‘Narcan’) is an opioid antagonist that is used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose by restoring breathing and brain function, thereby saving the life of the person experiencing an opioid overdose. Naloxone can be administered by a nasal spray or an injection.

Naloxone only works if someone has opioids in their system. It has no effect if opioids are not present. Naloxone has no potential for abuse. It is completely legal and has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Naloxone cannot make people high and it is safe for nearly everyone. A person who is given naloxone and regains consciousness still requires emergency medical help, which is why calling 911 is an important step to responding to an opioid overdose. To find out where to access naloxone, visit the Using Naloxone page.

Does increasing naloxone availability increase misuse of opioids?

According to several peer-reviewed, published studies, naloxone access laws and providing overdose prevention education do not increase opioid misuse.

The primary goal of providing education on responding to an opioid overdose and increasing naloxone access is to save lives. People with a substance use disorder are able to recover and become productive members of society with access to treatment and recovery support services.

Review a study that found that naloxone access laws do not increase opioid misuse. Review a study which found that knowledge of heroin overdose management increased, whereas heroin use decreased among individuals who inject drugs. Review a study finding no evidence of increased heroin use among participants in overdose education and naloxone distribution programs.

Should I expect someone to react violently after they are given naloxone and regain consciousness?

The likelihood of someone becoming violent upon opioid overdose reversal is extremely rare, especially with the nasal Narcan spray, which does not reverse the overdose as abruptly as other products. Of the more than 500 overdoses that have been reversed by law enforcement participating in the DuPage Narcan Program, not one has reported a violent reaction from the person overdosing. However, one of the steps to responding to an overdose is calling 911. One of the reasons why this is important is so that in the rare instance that someone becomes violent, law enforcement can respond.

Can naloxone harm a person?

Naloxone only affects people who are using opioids. If a person has no opioids in their system, there is no effect from having naloxone administered on them. If a person is not having an overdose but has been using opioids, they may experience withdrawal symptoms if they are given naloxone. The only contraindication for naloxone is an allergy to naloxone, which is rare.

What does the Good Samaritan law do?

Illinois has a “Good Samaritan” law (officially called the Emergency Medical Services Access Law of 2012) in place to encourage people to seek emergency medical help when someone is overdosing. If a person calls 911 or takes someone to an emergency room for an overdose (or for follow-up care if an overdose has already been reversed with naloxone), both the person seeking emergency help and the person who overdoses are protected from being charged/prosecuted for felony possession of drugs. View the Good Samaritan Law page for more information about this law.

What is the relationship between the DuPage Narcan Program and the HOPE Taskforce?

The DuPage Narcan Program (DNP) was established in 2013 in response to a sudden increase in deaths due to opioid overdose. The goal of DNP is to save lives by preventing death from opioid overdose and making naloxone readily available to first responders and those at risk of an opioid overdose.

The HOPE Taskforce, formed in January 2018, promotes the DNP as a valuable resource for the community, recognizing that it is a crucial part of the HOPE Taskforce Framework. View the goals and framework of the HOPE Taskforce.

HOPE Taskforce and Getting Involved

Who are members of the HOPE Taskforce?

View a list of appointed members to the HOPE Taskforce.

Who appoints HOPE Taskforce members?

Members of the Taskforce are appointed by the DuPage County Board Chairman. The Taskforce reports jointly to the County Board Chairman (through the Judicial Public Safety Committee) and the President of the DuPage County Board of Health. View the About HOPE page for more information about the Taskforce.

Can members of the public attend HOPE Taskforce meetings?

Members of the public are welcome to attend HOPE Taskforce meetings. The Taskforce meets at least quarterly and more frequently, as needed. All meetings adhere to the Illinois Open Meetings Act. View a list of upcoming meetings.

How is the HOPE Taskforce funded?

In 2018, the HOPE Taskforce received $100,000 from the County Board to support projects that address the opioid epidemic. Read more about initial HOPE Taskforce projects.

What can I do to get involved in preventing opioid misuse and overdose?

If you are looking for ways to help curb the opioid epidemic, a great place to start is by reviewing resource pages for parents, professionals, or community members. For any additional information, please contact us.