What Are Opioids?
Opioids describe a class of drugs that have opiate-like properties and bind to various opioid receptors in the brain and other organs. Opioids include synthetic drugs as well as natural opiates that are derived from the opium poppy Papaver somniferum. In medicine, opioids are used to treat moderate to severe pain and many other conditions and symptoms.
Prescription opioids are some of the most widely abused drugs in the world. Opioid drug misuse is dangerous and has led to a massive number of opioid overdoses. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioids were responsible for 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017. The United States is now facing an opioid epidemic.
Opioids provide a euphoric effect and relieve bodily pain. Opioids can be taken orally, injected intravenously or snorted intranasally. They work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and disrupt the nervous system’s ability to sense pain. The most dangerous aspect of opioids is how fast the body starts to build up a tolerance to them, leading to opioid addiction and dependence.
After prolonged opioid use, people who take the drugs build up a high tolerance and their bodies become dependent. Addiction is so prevalent because the withdrawal symptoms that occur when people stop taking opioids are so severe. People who stop taking opioids start to feel painful and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms within just a few hours and it may take over a week for them to fully subside, depending on the particular opioid drug and the individual.
Opioid withdrawal symptoms include:
- Muscle cramps
- Drug cravings
Opioid withdrawal is an extremely uncomfortable experience. Most people cannot make it through the entire withdrawal period without either relapsing or getting professional medical assistance. Even though there are medications that are designed to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms, some people try to treat their symptoms on their own using inappropriate and even dangerous methods and medications.
In an effort to self-medicate opioid withdrawal symptoms, many people struggling with opioid addiction turn to over-the-counter remedies. Loperamide, sold under the brand name Imodium, is a medication used to treat various forms of diarrhea. Because the drug binds to the same opioid receptors, it can provide similar effects to those of prescription opioids and heroin when taken in extremely large amounts. However, this is not a safe or effective way to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms since taking high doses of loperamide can actually lead to fatal cardiac and respiratory complications.
One of the most effective ways to relieve opioid withdrawal symptoms is to use one of the approved opioid replacement treatments currently available. Certain opioid medications that are specifically made to treat withdrawal symptoms may be given to patients under the close supervision of medical professionals. Opioid addiction treatment centers that offer opioid replacement and other therapy and addiction management services have been effective in treating opioid addiction and dependence. Attempting to self-treat opioid withdrawal symptoms is not recommended and could be extremely dangerous to people who struggle with opioid addiction.
The National Institue on Drug Abuse. “Overdose Death Rates.” Revised January 2019. Accessed February 2019.
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