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Street names: junk, H, horse, smack, shit, skag (for heroin); M, morph, Miss Emma (for morphine); meth (for methadone); percs (for Percodan, Percocet); juice (for Dilaudid)
Opioids are a family of drugs that have morphine-like effects. Their primary medical use is to relieve pain. Other medical uses include control of coughs and diarrhea, and the treatment of addiction to other opioids. Opioids can also produce euphoria, making them prone to abuse.
Federal laws regulate the possession and distribution of all opioids. Penalties for the illicit possession and distribution of opioids range from fines to life imprisonment.
Some opioids, such as morphine and codeine, occur naturally in opium, a gummy substance collected from the seed pod of the opium poppy, which grows in southern Asia. Other opioids, such as heroin, are made by adding a chemical to morphine. Today, many drugs in the opioid category don't actually come from opium. Instead, they are made synthetically from chemicals. Examples of opioids produced by pharmaceutical companies include oxycodone (Percodan/Percocet), meperidine (Demerol), hydrocodone (Tussionex) and hydromorphone (Dilaudid).
Prescription opioids come in various forms - tablets, capsules, syrups, solutions and suppositories.
Opium comes in dark brown chunks or powder, and is usually eaten or smoked. Heroin is usually a white or brownish powder.
Doctors and dentists prescribe opioids to people with acute or chronic pain resulting from disease, surgery or injury. Opioids are also prescribed to people with moderate to severe coughs and diarrhea. Opioids such as methadone and buprenorphine are used to treat addiction to other opioids, such as heroin.
Because of the risk of abuse, opioids are prescribed cautiously for chronic pain. However, opioids are of particular value in controlling pain in the later stages of terminal illness, when the possibility of physical dependence is not significant.
Some people use opioids for their ability to produce a mellow, relaxed "high." Much attention is given to the use of illegal drugs, such as heroin, but some of the most commonly used and abused opioids are prescription drugs, such as codeine-containing Tylenol (1, 2, 3 and 4), hydromorphone (Dilaudid), oxycodone (Percocet, Percodan), morphine and others.
Sometimes people who are prescribed opioids use them inappropriately. One warning sign is the early renewal of prescriptions. People who abuse opioids sometimes "double doctor," an illegal practice of filling an opioid prescription from more than one doctor, without letting the others know. These drugs are also stolen from pharmacies, and sold on the street.
Health professionals with access to prescription drugs are also at risk of opioid abuse. Some become dependent.
The way opioids affect you depends on:
Low doses of opioids suppress the sensation of pain and the emotional response to pain. They may also produce euphoria, drowsiness, relaxation, difficulty concentrating, constricted pupils, slight decrease in respiratory rate, nausea, vomiting, constipation, loss of appetite and sweating. With higher doses, these effects are more intense and last longer.
The speed and intensity of the effects of opioids vary depending on how the drugs are taken. When taken orally, the effects come on gradually, and are usually felt in about 10 to 20 minutes. When injected into a vein, the effects are most intense and are felt within a minute.
When opioids are taken to relieve pain, how long the effect is felt varies somewhat depending on the type of opioid taken, although a single dose of many opioids can provide pain relief for four to five hours.
Yes. Opioids can be dangerous if they are used without medical supervision. Here are some of the reasons:
They can be.
When opioids are used occasionally under medical supervision, there is little risk of addiction. However, people who use opioids regularly for their pleasurable effects soon develop tolerance to these effects. They may then use more of the drug to achieve the original intensity of effect. Chronic use or abuse of opioids can lead to psychological and physical dependence.
People are psychologically dependent when a drug is so central to their thoughts, emotions and activities that the need to continue its use becomes a craving or compulsion.
With physical dependence, the body has adapted to the presence of the drug, and withdrawal symptoms occur if use of the drug is reduced or stopped abruptly.
The person who is physically dependent will experience withdrawal symptoms about six to 12 hours after last taking a short-acting opioid, such as heroin, and about one to three days after last taking a long-acting opioid, such as methadone. With short-acting opioids, withdrawal comes on quickly and is intense; with longer-acting opioids, withdrawal comes on more gradually, and is less intense.
Symptoms of withdrawal include uneasiness, yawning, tears, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, goose bumps and runny nose. These symptoms are accompanied by a craving for the drug. Symptoms usually subside after a week, although some symptoms, such as anxiety, insomnia and drug craving, may continue for a long time. Unlike alcohol withdrawal, opioid withdrawal is rarely life-threatening.
Long-term use of opioids can cause mood instability, constricted pupils (impaired night vision), constipation, decreased libido and menstrual irregularities. Addiction to opioids can have devastating long-term social, financial and emotional effects.
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