Opiate Addiction

While opiates are prescribed to relieve acute pain, prolonged use can lead to addiction and abuse. Common opiates include prescription painkillers such as dilaudidoxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl, as well the illicit drug heroin. Opiate addiction is the leading cause of the drug overdose in the United States, with an estimated 20,101 deaths due to prescription painkillers and 12,990 deaths due to heroin use in 2015. Opiate addiction is a disease that has destroyed the lives and families of millions. While there is no cure for addiction, this disease can be treated in drug addiction rehabilitation, or drug rehab.

Opiates are drugs used to treat pain derived from the opium plant. Opiates are highly addictive and pose the threat of opiate addiction to any person who takes the drug for a prolonged period of time. Opiate use disorder is a medical disease that causes an abuser to seek out and continue using opiates, despite experiencing negative side effects.

The Sumerians first cultivated the opium poppy plant, or Papaver somniferum, in 3,400 B.C. They referred to it as the “joy plant,” and the wonder drug was soon passed around the world as merchants learned of its multiple uses. Opium was not only used to relieve pain, for which it is still used today, but it was also used to induce sleep and give relief to the bowels. Opiates are also frequently used to treat coughs.

Doctors have been extracting a variety of active substances out of opium for medical purposes for many years. These ingredients occur naturally in the sap of the opium poppy. Natural derivatives of the opium poppy plant are called opiates. Opiates can be manipulated further synthetically. Such man-made opiates are called opioids. Collectively, these opiate and opioid derivatives of the poppy plant include morphine, codeine, oxycodone and heroin.

While there is no major difference in the effectiveness of the drugs, opioids are synthetic or partly synthetic drugs that are made in similar processes as opiates. In opioids, the active ingredients are synthesized by chemical processes. However, the two terms are often used interchangeably.

Nearly as long as the drug has existed, it’s been used both medicinally and abusively to get high. Opiates exist on the drug market in a few different forms — as prescription pharmaceuticals, and illicit street drugs.

Prescription opiates include:

  • Morphine (DepoDur, Astramorph, Duramorph, Kapanol, MS Contin)
  • Codeine (Paracod, Panadeine, Tylenol 3)
  • Methadone (Methadose, Diskets, Dolophine)
  • Buprenorphine (Buprenex, Butrans)
  • Pethidine (Demerol)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)

Illicit street opiates include:

  • Heroin
  • Opium

All of these drugs can be abused, even if they are prescriptions. If you listen to drug dealers and opiate abusers speak, they may refer to all of these drugs using slang terms. These street names help evade police attention. Street names for a variety of opiates include:

  • H
  • Hammer
  • Skag
  • Gear
  • Smack
  • Horse
  • Elephant
  • Rock
  • Thunder
  • Nose Drops
  • Slow
  • Black tar
  • Poison
  • Homebake
  • China white
  • Hell dust
  • White
  • Chinese H
  • Harry Cone
  • Junk
  • White dynamite
  • Dragon
Opiate pain medications are prescribed mainly to treat moderate to severe pain. In most cases, opiates are prescribed following a surgery or procedure of some kind. Common legal opiate drugs include:

  • Morphine, a highly addictive, naturally occurring substance found in the opium plant, is well known and used to treat pain.
  • Meperidine, similar to morphine, is a synthetic prescription medication that produces similar effects. Meperidine does not last as long as morphine, though.  Meperidine is usually administered before a patient receives anesthesia for surgery.
  • Codeine, a less powerful but still addictive substance, is primarily used as a cough suppressant. Codeine is typically prescribed as a combination medication. If the purpose is to treat pain, then either acetaminophen or aspirin is combined with the drug. For cough relief, however, an antihistamine is prescribed alongside codeine. Although codeine is found naturally in the opium plant, most codeine products are manufactured using morphine, which can be chemically changed.
  • Hydrocodone is a semi-synthetic opioid that is prescribed to treat pain. Hydrocodone is the most frequently prescribed opiate medication on the market and its brand names include Lortab and Vicodin. Derived from the sap of the opium poppy plant, hydrocodone is only prescribed in combination with acetaminophen to treat moderate to severe pain; ibuprofen or aspirin for pain relief; or guaifenesin or chlorpheniramine to treat coughs.
  • Oxycodone is another semi-synthetic opioid that is prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. Similar to hydrocodone, oxycodone is prescribed in combination with aspirin and acetaminophen. It can also be prescribed alone. Brand names of oxycodone are Percocet and Oxycontin.  
  • Fentanyl is a highly addictive opiate that is produced synthetically, so it is known as a synthetic opioid analgesic. This powerful drug is prescribed to patients in severe pain, usually following a surgical procedure or during terminal illness. Fifty times more powerful than heroin and 100 times more powerful than morphine, patients are warned about the drug’s high potential for abuse and drug dependence. Fentanyl is commonly prescribed as a skin, or transdermal patch for slow delivery of the medication to treat severe chronic pain.
Opiates can range in appearance. Drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone come in pill form. Because they are prescribed in a formulation with acetaminophen or aspirin, different colors denote different strengths of the drug. These combinations are either in pink, blue, peach or yellow.

Opiates are usually swallowed as pills to treat pain. However, there are faster paths that addicted individuals may choose,  including:

  • Chewing the drug in order to increase absorption
  • Crushing and snorting pills for faster entry into the bloodstream
  • Dissolving crushed pills in water and injecting them intravenously

Individuals addicted to opioids usually store their pills in traditional orange pill bottles or hide them in mint tins or candy jars. If the abuser crushes their pills and snorts them, they may keep the powder in small bags, twisted in a piece of cling wrap or in a foil pouch.

Many abusers begin their addiction to prescription opiates with a legitimate prescription. Often, they will have had a surgery or illness that requires the medication, later becoming addicted to the drug. In some cases, this can lead to heroin abuse.

Heroin is derived from morphine and is typically sold in powder form. Heroin varies in color from white to brown. Besides powder form, heroin can also be found as granules and brown crystalline pieces known as “rock.” Packaged in foil or small balloons, heroin has many street names including skag, smack, white dynamite, dragon, Chinese H, slow, junk and dragon, just to name a few.

Unlike prescription painkillers that are used commonly in pill form, heroin addicts abuse the drug by:

  • Injection
  • Snorting
  • Smoking
  • Added to cigarettes or cannabis and smoking

Similar to how an abuser would smoke crack cocaine, heroin rock can be inserted into a glass pipe and heated using a lighter or match. The rock puts off fumes, which the abuser can then inhale to get high. Smoking often leads to a faster high, which is why many abusers use this method of consumption.

Opiates are highly addictive drugs. When an abuser takes an opiate, the drug enters the brain through the bloodstream, creating a flood of artificial endorphins and dopamine — neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of reward, pleasure and satisfaction. This creates a rush of happiness and euphoria. This high is so unlike any naturally-occurring rush of dopamine or endorphins that the only way a person can experience it again is by using the drug again.

After repeated use, however, the brain will stop creating dopamine and endorphins, limiting a person’s ability to experience these feelings again to only when they use opiates. Because of the strong and desirable feelings that flood the brain, and because they cannot feel pleasure naturally any longer, it is easy to crave an opiate high. People choose to abuse opiates in order to lessen their pain and continue experiencing these euphoric feelings on demand. This is one of the main reasons opiates are so highly addictive and why opiate addiction is such a concern.

There are several steps toward developing an addiction. The first is tolerance — when a person has to use increasingly larger doses of opiates to experience the same high. Next comes physical dependence, when the body will enter withdrawal if the abuser stops taking the drug. Finally, psychological dependence, or cravings for opiates set in — the hallmark of addiction.

Many people become addicted to opiates unintentionally. For some, they begin using the drugs with a legitimate prescription in response to an accident or surgery that would have caused them pain. By the time they no longer need the drugs for their pain, however, opiates have taken hold in the brain and cause a physical dependence starting an opiate addiction.

Some abusers will fake continued pain symptoms in order to get refills on their prescription, or “doctor shop” and visit different doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions at once. Prescription painkillers are also available on the black market or dark web, but can be very expensive.

For this reason, many opiate addicts who start their addiction using prescription opiates will end up abusing heroin, as it is cheaper to use and easier to get a hold of. In fact, a survey in 2014 found that nearly all of the respondents in treatment for opioid addiction resorted to using heroin because prescription pills were more expensive and harder to obtain.

Long-term opioid use changes the way nerve cells work in the brain. This happens even to people who take opioids for a long time to treat pain, as prescribed by their doctor. The nerve cells grow used to having opioids around, so when they are taken away suddenly, the brain has a volatile reaction. This results in unpleasant feelings and reactions, known as withdrawal symptoms.

One of the hallmarks of addiction is a person who abuses opiates even though it has admitted negative effects on their life. They have strong urges to take opiates — called cravings — and they no longer feel satisfied by natural rewards (like chocolate, sex, TV or a walk on the beach).

As a result, opiate addicts will exhibit several significant changes in their life. If you notice any of these signs, your loved one may be addicted to opiates:

  • Arrest for opiate possession or use
  • Selling family heirlooms to pay for opiates
  • Homelessness
  • Bankruptcy
  • Loss of custody of children
  • Loss of employment due to tardiness, absence or poor performance
  • Cashing out retirement or savings accounts to pay for opiates, or pay for legal fees after an arrest related to opiate abuse
  • Wearing long sleeves in warmer months or climates to cover track marks
  • Poor hygiene
  • Disinterest in hobbies or activities, such as sports clubs or church

If you have seen these signs in your loved one or in yourself, please seek help and reach out to our staff at The Recovery Village about available treatment options. With many options available, including inpatient therapy, outpatient therapy, group therapy, holistic therapy and more, there is a great choice out there for anybody seeking assistance during this challenging time.

With stigma still being attached to the word addiction, many people avoid going to treatment and end up endangering themselves. We believe that there is no shame in addiction — it is a disease. And, as with any disease, it requires medical care and attention. With the right course of action, detoxification, treatment plans and supervision from the best staff, you can put addiction in the past and go about living a happy and successful life. There is no better time to seek treatment than now.

Opiates are prescribed to treat pain in millions of people around the world. While it serves a great purpose in relieving pain, opiates have been the choice of drug to abuse and the epidemic has destroyed thousands of families, households, careers, and lives. These are just some of the many facts about the dangers of opiate addiction and abuse are:

  • Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with over 50,000 deaths due to overdose in 2015. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic as nearly half of the overdose deaths are attributed to opioid use.
  • Four out of five new heroin users started out by misusing prescription painkillers.
  • The statistics are startling in adolescents: In 2015, 276,000 adolescents were current nonmedical users of pain reliever and 122,000 of them were addicted to pain pills.
  • In addition to pain pills, heroin use is strong in adolescents: over 21,000 adolescents used heroin in 2015 and among those, 6,000 adolescents had a heroin use disorder.
  • Most adolescents are given pain relievers for free by a friend or relative, unaware of the dangers associated with nonmedical opioid use.
  • Women are in danger of abuse: they are more likely to have chronic pain, prescribed pain relievers in higher doses, and use them for longer time periods than men.
  • Heroin overdose deaths among women have tripled in the last few years alone, from 0.4 to 1.2 per 100,000.
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Opiate Addiction was last modified: July 18th, 2017 by The Recovery Village