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Article Summary

What are Opioids?

Opioids are some of the most commonly abused substances in the United States. They include such prescription pain relief medications as morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone, as well as illicit substances like heroin and fentanyl.

Irrespective of the type of opioid that you have been taking, there is a high risk that you may soon find yourself struggling with an addiction.

But what are opioids? Essentially, this term refers to a class of substances that occur naturally in the poppy plant - also known as opium. Sometimes, this plant is used to make some prescription pain relief medications. However, other drugs are produced synthetically in labs - but they have a similar chemical structure as natural opioids.

This class of drugs is typically used in the medical field. This is because the drugs contain some chemicals that are effective at relaxing the body as well as providing effective pain relief.

Doctors often prescribe some opioids for the treatment of moderate to severe pain symptoms. However, there are also some drugs in this class that are also effective in the treatment of diarrhea, coughing, and sleep disorders.

When you take opioids, you will often feel relaxed and tranquil. It is these effects that might cause you to start using these drugs for a non-medical purpose. However, you need to keep in mind that any form of substance abuse could prove to be dangerous, as opioids tend to be highly addictive.

When you use opioids, they will produce various effects in your brain. Some of these effects include the relief of any pain that you might be feeling throughout your body. However, you might also derive some pleasurable effects from the drugs, and start abusing them as a result.

If you continue taking these substances, there is a high risk that you may end up suffering a wide variety of negative side effects. These effects include drowsiness, confusion, nausea, constipation, and slowed breathing, among many others.

Types of Opioids

Often, opioids are referred to as narcotic drugs. Although they are effective at pain relief, they are not classified in the same class of drugs as over the counter pain relief medications like Tylenol and aspirin.

Today, there are various types of opioids. They include but are not limited to:

  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Lorcet, Lortab, Norco, Vicodin)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo)
  • Demerol
  • Methadone (Dolophine, Methadose)
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Oxecta, Roxicodone)
  • Oxycodone and acetaminophen (Percocet, Endocet, Roxicet)
  • Oxycodone and naloxone

Opioid Street Names

On the streets, opioids are referred to by a wide variety of names. This is because the people who take these drugs for a non-medical purpose try to avoid getting detected by law enforcement officials and other figures in authority. These street names include:

  • Amidone
  • Apache
  • Big H
  • Biscuits
  • Black Tar
  • Blue Heaven
  • Blues
  • Brown Sugar
  • Captain Cody
  • Cheese
  • China Girl
  • Dance Fever
  • Demmies
  • Mud
  • Percs
  • Poor Man's Ecstasy
  • Smack
  • Stop Signs
  • Watson-387

Using Opioids

Although doctors typically prescribe opioids for the treatment of various pain disorders, this class of drugs can also prove to be risky. This is particularly true if you have been taking them in any way other than your doctor recommended.

If you continue using these drugs - including prescription opioids - on a regular basis, there is a high risk that you could increase your tolerance to their effects. As a direct result, you would have to take them in higher doses or more frequently than you used to. Only by so doing will you be able to derive the pleasurable effects that you have come to associate with the drugs.

In many cases, ongoing opioid use in the long term could cause you to develop a substance use disorder - or an addiction. This condition is also known as an opioid use disorder.

On the other hand, if you take these drugs at high doses or continue misusing them, there is a high risk that they could restrict your breathing ability. This could give rise to the development of a drug overdose that could potentially turn out to be fatal.

Your risk of suffering respiratory depression - where your breathing significantly slows down or even stops - will increase if you do not have any experience using opioids or if you mix it with other drugs that interact with the medications you took.

In some situations, opioids also interact with diseases. It is for this reason that you should never use them unless you absolutely need them to manage a pain condition and a doctor has prescribed the medications for you - such as if you have tried other alternatives but they did not turn out to be effective.

In the same way, you need to review all the medications that you have been taking. You might also want to inform your doctor about any drug use that you have engaged in - whether in the present or in the past.

In case there is a family or personal history of drug and substance abuse and you start using opioids, there is a high risk that you may develop an opioid use disorder in the process. For this reason, it is recommended that you inform your doctor or the health care professional that you are seeing about this situation.

You might also want to ask them if there are any other alternative treatments that might prove useful in managing your condition. In case there are none and the doctor deems opioids to be the only solution available, you should start taking the drugs that they prescribed - but in the exact way that they recommended.

Opioid Misuse and Abuse

When a doctor prescribes opioids to deal with pain relief, they will generally ask you to only take these drugs over the short term and exactly as they recommended. However, there is always a risk that you could start abusing and misusing your prescriptions.

You could be said to be engaging in this form of substance abuse if you have been:

  • Taking medications that belong to other people
  • Taking your drugs in any dose or way than your doctor prescribed
  • Using the drugs simply because of the pleasurable effects that they produce

If you misuse any type of opioid, you may swallow it in the normal form it comes in. however, you may also choose to open the capsules or crush the pills before dissolving the resultant powder in a liquid that you later inject into your system through a vein. Alternatively, you may choose to snort this powder.

Irrespective of the route of administration, you can rest assured that opioid abuse is going to lead to negative outcomes - some of which will be apparent in the short term while others will come about in the long term.

Opioids and the Brain

Opioids work by binding themselves to the opioid receptors in the brain. After that, they will activate these receptors that are located on cells scattered all across your brain, the spinal cord, as well as other essential body organs.

These receptors are particularly found in the areas of the body and brain that are involved in controlling and managing your feelings of pleasure and pain. After attaching to these receptors, opioids will block any signals of pain that are being sent throughout the brain and body.

Further, they will cause the receptors to start releasing dopamine in high doses - higher than your body is used to. As a result, you might end up experiencing some pleasurable effects. It is these effects that might tempt you to start abusing opioids.

Opioid Effects

Taking opioids - whether for a valid medical reason or without any legal prescription - is likely to produce a wide variety of effects. These effects will be felt throughout your body and brain.

Over the short term, these drugs may relieve any pain that you may be feeling. Further, they might increase your feelings of happiness, relaxation, and euphoria. However, they might also lead to other adverse effects, including but not limited to:

  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Slowed breathing

Abusing opioids, in particular, could slow down your breathing. This condition is known as hypoxia and it occurs because your brain will not be getting oxygen in sufficient amounts.

This condition might lead to various neurological and psychological effects, both in the short and in the long term. These effects are often negative, and they include permanent brain damage, coma, or even death.

If you are an older adult and you have been using opioids, you may end up suffering these negative side effects. This is because you might be dealing with chronic diseases and taking multiple drugs that could interact with the opioid that you have been taking. As a result, you might suffer drug to disease or drug to drug interactions.

Further, your slowed metabolism might affect how these drugs are broken down in your body. As a result, you may experience a drug overdose even though you have been following the instructions from your doctor.

On the other hand, if you have been taking opioids through intravenous means and sharing drug injection needles and other equipment, your risk of developing contagious conditions might be increased. Examples of these conditions include hepatitis B and C, and HIV/AIDS.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Heroin and prescriptions opioids have the same chemical structure. Further, they produce effects that are quite similar. However, heroin tends to be more accessible and cheaper than most prescriptions.

If you have developed an opioid use disorder as a result of abusing your prescriptions, you may soon find yourself seeking out heroin because it is more readily available and at a lower cost.

In 2011, for instance, a research study reported that about 4 to 6 percent of the people who abuse prescription medications often end up making the switch to heroin. The same report showed that more than 80 percent of all heroin users first started abusing prescription opioids.

Opioid Tolerance, Dependence, and Addiction

If you have been taking opioids in the long term - even though a doctor prescribed them - there is a high risk that you could develop tolerance. As a result, you will have to take these drugs in higher doses or more often than you used to before you can experience the pleasurable effects that you desire.

On the other hand, repeated opioid use could lead to the development of dependence. This means that the neurons in your body and brain will adapt in such a way that they will no longer be able to function as they normally do unless you have taken your preferred opioids.

If you do not take these drugs, you may experience some physiological and psychological reactions. Once you have become dependent on opioids, you are going to require ongoing medical support and assistance to be able to overcome your growing dependence.

Addiction, on the other hand, is the highest level of opioids abuse. It is also known as an opioid use disorder, and it is often characterized by uncontrollable and compulsive substance abuse. When this condition develops, you will no longer be able to control your use of opioids - and you may continue taking the drugs irrespective of the negative consequences that you have been suffering.

Getting Help

Once you have developed an opioid use disorder, you will have to check into a controlled environment to be able to overcome it. Today, there are two main forms of addiction treatment and rehabilitation programs that can help you deal with your addiction. They include inpatient and outpatient treatment.

You will first go through a medically managed detox program to ensure that you deal with any of the withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings that will arise when you give up opioids. after that, you will be provided with ongoing rehabilitation and therapy services either on an inpatient or an outpatient basis until you are completely recovered from your substance use disorder.

CITATIONS

https://medlineplus.gov/opioidabuseandaddictiontreatment.html

https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/prescription-opioids

https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids

https://www.hhs.gov/opioids/prevention/index.html

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prescription-drug-abuse/expert-answers/what-are-opioids/faq-20381270

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28582659

https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/DR006/DR006/nonmedical-pain-reliever-use-2013.htm

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