M

att Ganem was first exposed to the prescription painkiller OxyContin when he was 16.

He was at a house party in the Boston area — the kind where kids traditionally first experiment with drinking or marijuana. Ganem didn’t know much about OxyContin, but he gave it a try.

That first pill was the beginning of a five-year struggle with opioid addiction.

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Ganem’s story is not uncommon. The United States is in the throes of a nationwide opioid epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 165,000 Americans died of prescription opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2014.

Part of the reason so many users struggle to get clean is that opioid withdrawal can be physically excruciating.

In this video, STAT explores exactly how opioids affect the human body — and why addiction can be so difficult to kick. Ganem, now 31, learned firsthand.

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