Opiates Addiction and Abuse

Opiate drugs are among the most abused in the United States. These highly addictive substances are manufactured and sold both legally and illegally in powder, liquid, and pill form. The initial source is the opium poppy plant. There are three types or opiates, but all can be deadly when abused.

More About Opiate Abuse

What are Opiates?

Sometimes referred to as opioids, opiate drugs are a group of Schedule I and II drugs that are synthesized by processing the milk harvested from an opium poppy plant. They’re classified as analgesic pain relievers and central nervous system depressants that bind to opioid receptors in the brain.

Drug scheduling is a classification protocol created by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and used by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Some opiates in this class are Schedule II drugs that have some clinical value but a high potential for abuse or dependency. Others categorized as Schedule I due to their lack of medicinal efficacy.

The terms opioid and opiate are often used interchangeably, but opioid usually refers to a synthetic or semi-synthetic form of the drug that’s manufactured in a lab by modeling the molecular structure of morphine. Taken from its raw form, opium is transformed from a white, milky substance to a clear or slightly tinted, sticky liquid. It’s then further refined to create morphine, which is the basis for all other opiates.

When first refined, morphine produces a clear liquid or a crystalline powder that’s white to tan in color. Some cheap, illegal opiates like heroin are dark brown due to the number of impurities. Most tablets are manufactured in a lab by pharmaceutical companies, but some, like fentanyl, are created in illegal factories. The powder or crushed tablets are snorted or smoked. Intravenous drug users dilute the powdered opiates in water and inject them.

Are Opiates Addictive?

Opiates are some of the most abused and highly addictive drugs around. The opioid crisis has hit every demographic of American society and claimed a record number of victims. Unfortunately, each year since the crisis began breaks records from the previous year.

More than 42,000 people have died due to opiate overdose since 2016. In 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. This designation allows organizations and treatment centers around the country to receive government funding to study addiction rates and develop or subsidize programs to combat opiate addiction. Mandating health care coverage to treat substance use disorders means recovery is accessible to anyone who needs it.

Addiction Versus Dependence

Opiate drugs are subject to abuse due to their addictive properties and easy path to physical dependency. Even people who take legally prescribed opiates can become dependent if they’re prescribed for more than short-term pain management. Dependency doesn’t mean that someone is addicted, although persons who are addicted to opiates are often physically dependent on them, too.

Unfortunately, habitual use only increases tolerance for the drug. It doesn’t change the lethal dosage.

Statistics will show the harm opiate drugs have on society.

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Opiate Abuse Statistics

The results of studies conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and other health and research organizations paints a devastating picture of opiate abuse in our country. Opiate abuse statistics have been on an upward trend since the late 1990s, coming to a peak in 2016.

Although the government itself doesn’t collect data abuse substance abuse, it does rely on information gathered by organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and National Center for Health Statistics to shape drug enforcement and health policy.

2016 was the year the opioid crisis reached record highs for overdose death and usage; 2017 broke some of those records. One big factor was the rise in fentanyl abuse and the related death toll. Of the 72,000 who died from drug overdose in 2017, 30,000 died from a fentanyl overdose.

Fentanyl may be the most recent trend in opiate abuse, but it is far from the only drug.

Opiates List

Many people taking prescription drugs and their loved ones may wonder which of their medications are opiates. A comprehensive list of opiates might answer those questions, or at least tell friends and family members what to look for if they’re concerned.

There are three types of opiates, natural, synthetic, and semi-synthetic. Natural opiates are drugs that are 100 percent derived from the opium poppy. Synthetics and semi-synthetics are man-made products of modern chemistry that are modeled on the chemical structure of morphine. Many are illegal street drugs, but a large number are perfectly legal prescription medications; not all opioids are narcotics.

Synthetic Opioids

Synthetics drugs were created to cause the brain to react in the same way as the real thing. They bind to the same neurotransmitters as natural opiates, and they produce the same side-effects and withdrawal symptoms when someone stops taking them.

Common Synthetic Opiates Include:

  • Dextromethorphan; a non-prescription, non-narcotic opioid-based substance that’s sold as an additive to cold remedies or a cough suppressant under the brands like NyQuil, Theraflu, and Robitussin.
  • Dextropropoxyphene; a prescription pain reliever sold as Darvon and Darvocet-N.
  • Loperamide, which is used to control diarrhea.

Semi-Synthetic Opioids

Semi-synthetic opiates combine the alkaloid properties of natural and man-made drugs. Some semi-synthetics are used to treat long-term or severe addictions by producing a milder effect that controls withdrawal symptoms enough to prevent a full relapse.

  • Methadone; sold under the brand, Dolophine, it’s a full agonist opioid drug that used to manage withdrawal and prevent relapse with heavy or long-term users. Due to increased abuse, there are alternative treatments available with partial- or anti-agonist drugs like Suboxone.
  • Codeine; prescribed in a pure form as a cough suppressant or added to prescription-strength couch remedies; it’s also sometimes mixed with liquid acetaminophen. Codeine is sold over-the-counter in some countries, but available by prescription only in the US.
  • Oxycodone; the generic name for Percocet, Percodan, and deadly brands like Oxycontin
  • Hydrocodone; sold under the brand name Vicodin, it’s one of the most prescribed pain relievers on the market.
  • Fentanyl and its analogs; most are manufactured and sold illegally, but it’s also sold under the brand names Sublimaze and Ultiva.
  • Carfentanyl/carfentanil; an extremely powerful and deadly synthetic opioid that’s up to 200 times the strength of fentanyl and indicated for use on animals only.

Natural Opiates

  • Opium; natural substance that originates in Greece, parts of the Middle East, and Asia. In wide use as a recreational drug in the infamous “Opium Dens” up until the 1920s, it may have caused one of the first opiate epidemics.
  • Morphine; named after Morpheus, the Greek God of Dreams, it’s used legally under a doctor’s supervision, but also abused as an illegal drug. It was administered on battlefields to treat wounded soldiers and prescribed in the 1800s and earlier for a range of medical purposes.
  • Heroin; an illegal, dangerous, and a highly addictive street drug, it has gone up and down in popularity over the decades. It’s seeing a resurgence lately for recreational use and as a cheap, widely available alternative for those with opiate addictions. It’s estimated that 80 percent of people in treatment for heroin addiction started with prescription opioids.

Alternatives to prescription painkillers exist, and new treatments for chronic pain are being developed every day. There’s also hope and help available at a reputable rehabilitation center for those who are in the grips of substance abuse or addiction.