What Are Opiates?
Opiates include controlled prescription substances that are derived from Opium, which is a chemical that occurs naturally in poppy seeds and plants. These drugs are used clinically for treating mild to severe pain in patients. Due to their intensely calming effects, Opioids have tremendously high rates of abuse which, in many cases, can lead to addiction.
The National Institute On Drug Abuse has reported that “In 2019, nearly 50,000 people in the United States died from opioid-involved overdoses.”
An addiction to Painkillers often begins after someone is prescribed the medication for pain following an accident or injury. Patients are given a prescription and specified dose from a doctor; often patients have no intention of abusing the medication. However, over a period of time, a person may feel that the drug is no longer as effective as it was in the beginning. This feeling is caused by an increased tolerance to the prescribed Painkiller, which means that the substance has built up within a person’s body.
A tolerance can also cause a person to take doses larger than their recommended amount in order to achieve the effects they want. Increasing the medication dosage can lead to a physical dependence whereby the user needs to continue taking the drug to feel normal. Eventually a physical dependence can lead to cravings, which are characterized by growing urges to continue using the drug despite negative consequences that may occur.
When a person’s drug-seeking behavior scales completely out of control and begins to compromise their physical and psychological health, a full-blown addiction is present. Addiction is far more serious than a strong desire to use drugs — it is a neurological disease that feels inescapable to the person suffering.
An individual who struggles with a substance abuse disorder will often wish to quit but feel unable to do so on their own. The only way a person can fully overcome the grips of an addiction to Opioid Painkillers is by seeking treatment at an inpatient rehab center.
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Types Of Opiates
Opiates are prescribed for a wide range of medical needs. There are two main classifications for this type of drug: antagonists and agonists.
Antagonists, such as Naltrexone and Naloxone, are considered to be less addictive than agonists, though the potential for abuse still exists. They are often used to help with the detoxification process, which often takes place as the first part of addiction treatment.
Agonists mimic the effects of naturally-occurring endorphins in the body and produce an Opiate effect by interacting with specific receptor sites in the brain. Agonists include drugs like Morphine and Fentanyl, which are most commonly used in medical settings and have the strongest effects. Many substances in this category have a very high potential for abuse and addiction. Other examples of agonists include Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Heroin, and Buprenorphine.
The most common Opiate agonists can be found in the list below.
Manufactured to relieve mild to moderate pain and coughing, Codeine is less potent than other Opioid Painkillers. It is easily obtained with a prescription and is present in some over-the-counter medicines. Commonly abused among young adults, Codeine is often combined with sugary drinks to create a mixture referred to as “Purple Drank” or “Sizzurp.”
Though now banned by the FDA, Darvocet and Darvon are Propoxyphene-based Painkillers that were responsible for thousands of hospitalizations and deaths during their prime. While prescriptions for these drugs are no longer written, a black market still exists for the substances.
A Narcotic used to treat moderate to severe pain, Demerol is less frequently prescribed in modern times because of its high potential for addiction. Demerol is the brand name for Meperidine, which has euphoric effects similar to Morphine.
Sometimes referred to as “Hospital Grade Heroin,” Dilaudid is a powerful type of Painkiller. Available in extended-release tablets, Dilaudid abuse can quickly lead to breathing problems or even death.
A Synthetic Painkiller that is up to 100 times as potent as Morphine, Fentanyl is only prescribed in cases of severe pain. When used in conjunction with other Painkillers such as Heroin, Fentanyl can quickly lead to overdose and other dangerous side effects.
A main ingredient in many powerful Painkillers, Hydrocodone can be found in drugs such as Vicodin. It is typically combined with Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen, but the FDA has also approved pure Hydrocodone medications.
An Opioid used for moderate to severe pain, Methadone is also used as a way to curb cravings for people who are addicted to other substances, including Heroin. Despite its use in helping to treat other addictions, Methadone is still an addictive substance in its own right.
Morphine has been touted as a godsend for people suffering from severe chronic pain. It is also one of the most addictive substances known and responsible for a large amount of unintentional drug-related deaths nationwide.
Oxycodone is sold under brand names including OxyContin and Percocet. It is a widely prescribed Painkiller and has a high potential for abuse.
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Opioids Vs. Opiates
Many people have questions surrounding the difference between these two terms. As it turns out, both terms are often interchanged because these substances largely produce the same effects.
Opiates are substances with active ingredients that are naturally derived from Opium. Common Opiates include Morphine and Codeine, both of which are directly made from the Opium found in poppy plants.
Opioids are synthetically manufactured substances that mimic the natural effects of Opium. Some Opioids are fully Synthetic, while others are only partially Synthetic — meaning they still contain natural Opium.
Both Opioids and Opiates work by activating receptors in the brain and depressing the central nervous system. When receptors become activated by one of these drugs, they release “feel-good” chemicals known as endorphins. The release of endorphins caused by Opiate or Opioid use leads to feelings of relaxation and calmness, which can be highly addicting.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if a drug was derived from a natural source or was chemically manufactured. Both Opiates and Opioids carry an equal potential for abuse and addiction. Please discuss these risks with your doctor before taking an Opiate or Opioid medication.
Opiate Effects And Abuse
Opiates produce euphoric and tranquil effects when taken in amounts that are larger than prescribed. The pleasant, care-free feelings a person experiences when taking these drugs are often what leads to destructive patterns of abuse.
Opiate addiction is often characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behavior. For example, in an attempt to obtain more of the drug, a person may visit multiple doctors in order to get new prescriptions, otherwise known as “doctor shopping.”
The pathological urges to use these drugs can also drive people to borrow, buy, or steal the drugs from friends and family. As an act of desperation, some individuals may resort to seeking out Heroin, an illegal Opioid that is commonly purchased on the streets. Despite the well-known dangers of Heroin, it is often easier and cheaper to obtain than Opioid pills.
In one survey, 94% of respondents said they chose to use Heroin over prescription Painkillers because it was cheaper and easier to get.
Millions of people struggle with an Opioid Painkiller use disorder, and their family members and other loved ones are also impacted. Some of the most staggering abuse statistics are below.
In 2018, Opioids were linked to 66.6% of all substance overdose fatalities.
Each day, 46 people die from a prescription Painkiller overdose.
As of 2019, 10,100,000 Americans took Opioids improperly during the preceding 12 months.
A devastating yet all-too-common consequence of Opioid Painkiller abuse is an overdose. An overdose is commonly caused by taking too much of a substance at any given time or by combining multiple substances, especially other Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants such as Benzodiazepines and alcohol.
People can overdose on Painkillers alone, but the risk is much greater for those who consume other types of substances at the same time. Common examples of polydrug abuse include mixing drugs with alcohol or another type of prescription drug, such as Benzodiazepines.
The telltale signs of an overdose related to taking these drugs include:
- Constricted pupils
- Shallow, restricted breathing
- Cool, clammy skin
- Extreme sleepiness/inability to wake up
For many people, surviving an overdose was the defining moment that encouraged them to seek treatment. However, some people are hesitant to enter rehab shortly after experiencing an overdose. In fact, individuals will often wake up from an overdose and immediately use again.
It’s common to feel ashamed about your struggle with substance use and fear judgment from others during treatment. In reality, the people you will encounter in rehab are there to support you for seeking help rather than scrutinize you for succumbing to drug abuse.
Your chosen center’s therapists and staff will work hard to ensure that your treatment experience is 100% confidential and judgment-free. This is because they believe in your ability to overcome the disease of addiction. They want to do everything they can to instill the confidence and motivation you will need throughout your recovery journey.
Treatment For Opiate Addiction
There are many treatment options to choose from, but research suggests the most effective form of treatment for Opiate addiction is inpatient detox followed by inpatient rehab. Inpatient rehab centers have specialized programs for individuals suffering from this type of substance use disorder. These programs help patients dig deep within themselves to uncover the root cause of their drug use. Knowing what caused patients to use drugs or alcohol in the first place will help prevent future triggers while in recovery.
Many individuals quickly find that the rewards of progressing through a treatment program far outweigh the “high” they formerly gained from drug use.
Featured Centers Offering Opiate Addiction Treatment
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Contact a treatment provider today for more information about different treatment options. The worst of withdrawal may be avoidable if treatment modalities like the kind offered by rehabs are used; perhaps more importantly, an incredibly tragic and fatal overdose may be prevented if action is taken before it occurs.
Jeffrey Juergens earned his Bachelor’s and Juris Doctor from the University of Florida. Jeffrey’s desire to help others led him to focus on economic and social development and policy making. After graduation, he decided to pursue his passion of writing and editing. Jeffrey’s mission is to educate and inform the public on addiction issues and help those in need of treatment find the best option for them.
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- Walter Ling, MD and Donald R. Wesson, MD. (1990). Addiction Medicine and the Primary Care Physician | Drugs of Abuse -- Opiates. Retrieved on March 7th, 2017 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1002412/pdf/westjmed00117-0103.pdf
- American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2015). Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts and Figures. Retrieved on March 7th 2017 from: http://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2013). Polydrug Abuse: A Review of Opioid and Benzodiazepine Combination Use. Retrieved on March 7th, 2017 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3454351/
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2012). The Doctor's Dilemma: Opiate Analgesics and Chronic Pain. Retrieved on March 7th, 2017 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3073133/
- U.S. Department Of Health And Human Services. (2021). Opioid Crisis Statistics. Retrieved on December 16, 2021, from: https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/about-the-epidemic/opioid-crisis-statistics/index.html
Certified Addiction Professional
Theresa Parisi received her bachelor’s degree in Addiction Science and Psychology from Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minnesota in 2010. She is currently working towards her master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida. She is a Certified Addiction Professional (CAP), Certified Behavioral Health Case Manager (CBHCM), and International Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ICADC) by the Florida Certification Board. Theresa is passionate about recovery having gone through addiction herself.
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