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Central nervous system

Opioid dependence

High burden on individuals and society

Opioid dependence is a serious, chronic, relapsing disease that impacts all aspects of a person's daily life. With a high increase in usage worldwide, opioids pose a huge burden on society, affected individuals and their families.1

Disease overview

An escalating global health problem

Opioid dependence is an escalating problem globally, contributing to significant adverse mental, physical, and social consequences, including unemployment, criminal activity, imprisonment, transmission of infectious diseases, unintentional overdose and death.1

During the pandemic, the opioid crisis has worsened and in the US deaths due overdoses for the first time surpassed 100,000 deaths in a year, of which more than 70,000 were estimated to be associated with opioids. This represents an increase of about 40 percent since 2019 – and opioids are today the number one cause of death in the US for people under the age of 50.2,3

In Europe, there are about 1.3 million high risk users of opioids, of which only half receive medical treatment.4,5 More than 10,000 European lives are lost every year due to drug-related overdoses and a majority of these are related to use of opioid use.6-8 In Australia, the number of deaths due to illicit drugs has increased, with over 2,200 drug-induced deaths in 2019, of which almost 900 were due to opioids – making overdose the leading cause of death in Australia, for all ages.9

Medical condition with high social stigma

Opioid dependence can happen to anyone – often there is not just one driving factor. This chronic condition, which can arise from repeated use of opioids, affects the brain leading to the person feeling a strong need for opioids despite being aware of the harm they cause. Opioid dependence is often associated with high social stigma and social exclusion.10,11

Principles of treatment

Like other chronic conditions, opioid dependence often requires long-term treatment. Treatment may consist of a combination of pharmacological and psychological interventions aimed at reducing or stopping opioid use, preventing future harm associated with the disease and improving possibilities for recovery.11

To learn more about opioid dependence, see


  1. Strang J., et al. Opioid use disorder. Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2020 Jan 9;6(1):3.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  3. The Freedom Center:
  4. European Drug Report 2021. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
  6. Office for National Statistics.
  7. National Records of Scotland.
  8. NISRA.
  9. Australia’s Annual Overdose Report 2021. Penington Institute.
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Stop Overdose, Stigma Reduction.
  11. Dematteis, M., et al. Recommendations for buprenorphine and methadone therapy in opioid use disorder: a European consensus. Expert Opin Pharmacother. Dec;18(18):1987-1999, 2017.

  • 1.3

    high risk users of opioids in Europe and only half of these get medical treatment4,5

  • 40%

    of deaths due to overdoses in the US since 20192


In addition to cravings, withdrawals and drug seeking behavior, physical symptoms of opioid dependence may include changes in sleep habits, weight loss and decreased libido.


An opioid dependence diagnosis may be made by a doctor following a formal assessment based on the patient’s history and pattern of opioid use, such as use of heroin, other illicit opioids or prescription opioids.


Treatment and management of opioid dependence need to be individualized and may consist of a combination of different pharmacological and psychological interventions.