What are opiates and opioids?
Opiates are a drug derivative of opium. Originally “opioids” referred to synthetic opiates (drugs created to mimic opium,). Today the term term Opioid is used to describe the entire family of opiates including natural, synthetic and semi-synthetic. An opioid is best described as is any chemical or agent that binds to opioid receptors (which are protein molecules located on the membranes of some nerve cells). These cells are primarily found in the central nervous system and gastrointestinal tract.
There are four broad classes of opioids:
- Endogenous opioid, naturally produced in the body, endorphins
- Opium alkaloids, such as morphine and codeine
- Semi-synthetic opioids such as heroin,oxycodone, and Buprenorphine
- Fully synthetic opioids, such as methadone
Examples of opioids are: painkillers such as morphine, methadone, Buprenorphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. Heroin is also an opioid and is illegal. Opioid drugs sold under brand names include: OxyContin® , Percocet® , Vicodin® , Percodan® , Tylox® and Demerol® among others. What they all have in common is each is highly addictive.
How do opioids affect people?
Opioids attach to receptors in the brain. Normally these opioids are the endogenous variety created naturally in the body. Once attached, they send signals to the brain of the “opioid effect” which blocks pain, slows breathing, and has a general calming and anti-depressing effect. The body cannot produce enough natural opioids to stop severe or chronic pain nor can it produce enough to cause an overdose.
Nearly 2 million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids in 2014 – Center for Disease Control
The “High” from an opioid is not intoxication or impairing as it is with alcohol.
At low to moderate doses the “High” from opioids is not intoxication or impairing (as with alcohol). It does not feel like alcohol or marijuana, or hallucinogens. It instead provides feelings of intense joy and comfort, more so than can be obtained naturally.
At higher doses, breathing is impaired, it slows down and can result in death. This respiratory depression is the actual cause of overdose deaths. With opioids there is a small window between euphoria and death.
How dangerous are opioids?
Opioids are highly addictive and very dangerous. Not only will they cause an array of health problems they’re prone to overdose and death. The CDC has published many papers on opioid overdose and death. Some of their findings include:
Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2015. From 1999 to 2008, overdose death rates, sales and substance use disorder treatment admissions related to prescription pain relievers increased in parallel. The overdose death rate in 2008 was nearly four times the 1999 rate”
Is there hope for opioid addicts and users?
Yes of course. In spite of the highly addictive nature of opioids, opiates, and prescription drugs addicts stop using all the time. It takes an honest desire and reaching out for assistance. We highly encourage any opioid addict or user to see a trained health professional to help address any withdrawal symptoms they might experience.
If you or a loved one is struggling with drug addiction call someone today. Get help, life if short and you deserve better.