Opioid Use Disorder

Opioid use disorder is a brain disease, not a moral failing.

Chronic exposure to opioids may result in brain abnormalities. These brain abnormalities can lead to the development of addiction known as opioid use disorder. Opioid use disorder (OUD) is a treatable, chronic brain disease affecting 2 million people in the U.S. that can be managed long term with medical treatment.

Opioid Use Disorder

Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences. It is considered a brain disease, because it involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, self-control, and decision-making and those changes may last a long time after a person has stopped using opioids.


Opioid overdose and misuse are a significant public health crisis in the U.S. today.1

Drug overdose is the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50.2

Each day in the US, 221 people die from opioid-related overdoses.3*

More than 80,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2021, most involving an illicit opioid like fentanyl .3*

The true cost of opioid use disorder and fatal opioid overdose in 2017 was $1.02 trillion.4

OUD Therapies and Counseling

There are three FDA-approved medications for the treatment of opioid use disorder: buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone. All three medications are available in oral formulations. Buprenorphine and naltrexone are available in long-acting injectable formulations. According to SAMHSA, medications for OUD normalize brain chemistry, block the euphoric effects and opioids, relieve physiological cravings, and normalize body functions without the negative and euphoric effects of the substance used. Research shows that a combination of medication and behavioral counseling can help patients enter and sustain long-term recovery. Healthcare providers can choose the medication that best meets the needs of the patient.5


*2021 Provisional Estimates

1 HHS.gov, Oct 2019. Opioid epidemic by numbers. Accessed 02/27/2020. https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/about-the-epidemic/index.html.

2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2018 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released in 2020. Accessed at http://wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html on Jul 1, 2020.

3 Ahmad FB, Rossen LM, Sutton P. Provisional drug overdose death counts. National Center for Health Statistics. 2022.

4 Curtis Florence, Feijun Luo, Ketra Rice, The economic burden of opioid use disorder and fatal opioid overdose in the United States, 2017, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, Volume 218, 2021, 108350, ISSN 0376-8716, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2020.108350.

5 SAMHSA, July 2022. Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). Accessed December 1, 2022. https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment.

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