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What are Opiates?
Opiates, sometimes referred to as narcotics, are a group
of drugs which are used medically to relieve pain, but
also have a high potential for abuse. Some opiates come
from a resin taken from the seed pod of the Asian poppy.
This group of drugs includes opium, morphine, heroin,
and codeine. Other opiates, such as meperidine (Demerol),
are synthesized or manufactured. Opium appears as dark
brown chunks or as a powder and is usually smoked or eaten.
Heroin can be a white or brownish powder which is usually
dissolved in water and then injected. Most street preparations
of heroin are diluted, or "cut," with other
substances such as sugar or quinine. Other opiates come
in a variety of forms including capsules, tablets, syrups,
solutions, and suppositories. Heroin ("junk"
"smack") accounts for 90 percent of the opiate
abuse in the United States. Sometimes opiates with legal
medicinal uses also are abused. They include morphine,
meperidine, paregoric (which contains opium), and cough
syrups that contain codeine [or a synthetic narcotic,
such as dextromethorphan].
Opiates tend to relax the user. When opiates are injected, the
user feels an immediate "rush." Other initial and
unpleasant effects include restlessness, nausea, and vomiting.
The user may go "on the nod," going back and forth
from feeling alert to drowsy. With very large doses, the user
cannot be awakened, pupils become smaller, and the skin becomes
cold, moist, and bluish in color. Breathing slows down and death
How are Opiates used?
A.) There are a number of synthetic opiates which are used as
painkillers such as pethidine and methadone which is often prescribed
for heroin and opiate addiction. Collectively opiates and synthetic
opiates are called opioids.
Opioids powders can be swallowed or dissolved in water and injected,
particularly into a vein which maximizes the effect. Heroin
is sometimes sniffed, or the fumes from the heated powder is
inhaled (this method is sometimes called "chasing the dragon").
opiates are taken orally, except heroin, which is in powder
form. Heroin users generally begin sniffing the drug and gradually
advance to injecting. The powder is dissolved in water and heated
to produce a liquid. The user then injects the substance either
subcutaneously or intravenously.
Subcutaneous injection ("skin popping") is when a
heroin solution is injected into the layers of skin, usually
in the arms or thighs. Intravenous injection ("mainlining")
is when the heroin is injected into a vein. The effects of injecting
heroin are felt within minutes and last three to four hours,
depending on the dosage.
The large majority of heroin is illegally manufactured and imported,
which originates largely from the Indian sub-continent. When
sold at street level it is likely to have been diluted or cut
with a variety of similar powders. The main dilutant is glucose.
However, the practice of using other substances such as caffeine,
flour and talcum powder is a constant danger to users.
What are the psychological effects of Opiates?
A.) Like other depressants, opiates produce a tranquil and euphoric
effect. Users who inject an opiate such as heroin may also experience
a "rush" as the drug circulates through the body.
Some users combine opiates with a stimulant such as cocaine.
This is called "speed balling." The stimulant keeps
the user from falling asleep; the opiate reduces the hyperactive
effects often caused by stimulants.
Psychological dependence is probable with continued use of opiates.
When an user becomes dependent, finding and using the drug becomes
the main focus of life. Opiates induce tolerance: the need for
more of the drug in order to produce the same effects.
What are the physical effects of Opiates?
A.) The physical effects of opiates depend on the opiate used,
its source, the dose and the method used. Opiates slow breathing,
heart rate and brain activity. Opiates depress appetite, thirst
and sexual desire. The body's tolerance to pain is increased.
Potential contamination, using opiates in combination with other
drugs, and using un-sterile needles all increase the danger
of opiates. Use of un-sterile needles can lead to hepatitis,
tetanus or AIDS.
Regular opiate users who abruptly stop using the drug experience
withdrawal symptoms four to six hours following the last dose.
Symptoms include uneasiness, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, chills,
sweating, nausea, runny nose and eyes, irritability, weakness,
tremors and insomnia. The intensity of these symptoms depends
on how much of the drug was taken, how often and for how long.
These symptoms are usually strongest 24 to 72 hours after onset
and can persist for seven to 10 days.
What effects do Opiates have on pregnant women?
A.) Opiates are harmful to a developing fetus. Pregnant women
who are dependent on opiates have a higher risk for spontaneous
abortions, breech deliveries, premature births and stillbirths.
Babies born to opiate-addicted mothers often have withdrawal
symptoms similar to adults. These symptoms may last several
weeks or months. Researchers have also found an increased risk
of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) among babies born to
What are some signs and symptoms of Opiate use?
Are Opiates addictive?
A.) Long-term use of opioids causes tolerance to develop so
that in order to achieve the same degree of euphoria, larger
and larger doses must be taken. When people have been off the
drug for some time their tolerance decreases and a common cause
of death results from an user taking the same amount of drug
used before they stopped or cut down.
When high doses have been taken for several weeks, a sudden
withdrawal causes symptoms of discomfort similar to flu. These
include aches, sweating and chills, tremor, sneezing and yawning
and muscular spasms, all or some of which usually commence between
8 and 24 hours after the last dose of heroin. Although these
effects usually fade within 7 to 10 days, feelings of weakness
and loss of well being can last for several months.
dependence is easier to overcome than psychological dependence,
which some long-term users develop, although dependence of any
kind is not a certainty. Some people can use heroin on an occasional
basis and not become addicted.
Prolonged usage can cause physical damage to the body, although
not necessarily from the drug itself. Repeated injections with
dirty needles can result in diseases such as Hepatitis, AIDS
and Tetanus, especially when sharing needles. There is also
a risk of using impure drugs which have been mixed with unknown
substances. Repeated sniffing of heroin damages the nose.
Apathy and reduced appetite caused by drug use can lead to disease
as a result of a poor diet, self neglect and bad housing conditions.
The increasing cost of satisfying tolerance / dependence can
lead to money problems which can result in self neglect and
major social problems.
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