Opiate drugs have historically been devastating to whole communities and countries. Early opiate drug abuse began with opium from poppies, evolved to heroin abuse and further expanded to synthetic opiates in the form of misused prescription pain pills. What role do these drugs play in the current American substance abuse epidemic? Opiate drug trends and statistics instill a fear in many that things may be worse than ever before.
What are Opiates
Opiate drugs are those—whether man-made or naturally derived—which serve as sources of euphoria, pain relief and nervous system depressants.
When derived naturally, opiates can be cultivated from the poppy plant in the form of opium. Synthetic opiates are chemically engineered or man-man from chemicals called semi-synthetic alkaloids. Some of the most commonly known opiate drugs are morphine, heroin, codeine and oxycodone. Most mammals possess opiate receptors in the brain—humans included. These receptors serve as somewhat of a receiving station, allowing for opiate drugs to produce their effects and the body to react accordingly.
Physiologically, humans produce their own natural “painkillers” (called endorphins) as a regular function. In the presence of opiate drugs (prescription painkillers or heroin, for example) the production of these natural pain relievers is shut down, and the body begins to depend on the opiates to do the job. This is a very basic explanation for why, upon cessation of opiate use, heroin and painkiller addicts experience severe pain and discomfort.
Dangers of Prescription Painkiller Abuse
According to the CDC, overdoses relating to opiate prescription pills like Vicodin, methadone, Oxycontin, etc., have more than tripled over the past decade. Even more shocking is the fact that over 40 people die on a daily basis from narcotic opiate pain medications—more than heroin and cocaine combined.
Prescriptions like oxymorphone, methadone and the ones listed above are intended for use as heavy pain relievers. For patients recovering from gunshot wounds, surgeries and other injuries, these drugs offer a much-needed respite from very intense pain. Unfortunately, the value of these pills in terms of the needs of the medical community, is far outweighed by the dangers, risks and fatalities we see nationwide.
Prescription misuse has become such a widespread epidemic that some experts fear the thousands of painkiller addicts currently struggling in the US will transfer their addictions to the less expensive and more easily obtained opiate street drug, heroin. Thus far, American stats show an increase of heroin abuse amongst suburban communities and youth. There is thought to be a connection with the opiate addiction epidemic of prescription painkillers.
Spotting an Opiate Dependency
Opiate dependency (or addiction to heroin or prescription painkillers) can be insidious and hard to spot, but knowing the signs of addiction and dependency is undoubtedly key.
Some of the token discomforts of opiate withdrawal are more easily spotted than others, but understanding these physical reactions to the absence of opiates can mean the ability to rapidly spot a serious problem.
Some signs of an opiate addiction are:
- Complaints of headaches, bone or deep tissue pain, general discomforts, nausea, headaches or vomiting (in between doses of prescription drugs)
- Body weight changes, lack of appetite or constipation (opiates are known to interrupt digestion and metabolism)
- A visible “glazed over” look, glassy eyes, nodding out, unconsciousness or extreme and persistent fatigue
- Marks, open wounds or scars on the arms, legs or neck which appear to be injection sites for heroin
- Emotional instability—anxiety, depression or mood swings—such phenomena tend to be especially prominent on a come-down from heroin or painkillers
Opiate addiction can be deadly. Recreational heroin or prescription pill abuse can rapidly escalate to fatal circumstances. If you know someone abusing opiates, get them immediate help.