An opiate agonist is a drug that mimics the effects of naturally-occurring endorphins in the body and produces an opiate effect by interacting with specific receptor sites. Examples of full opiate agonists include heroin, oxycodone, methadone, hydrocodone, morphine, opium and a number of other drugs. An agonist is a chemical that binds and activates the receptor to produce a certain biological response, whereas an antagonist blocks the action of the agonist and has an inverse agonist effect. Opiate antagonists include naloxone and naltrexone.
Examples of an Opiate Agonist
Methadone is the most widely known and most common of the opiate agonists used to treat opioid dependence. It decreases drug cravings and has helped many patients wean off opiates. It is dispensed in a licensed methadone clinic where patients must go to receive their dose. Because it is a narcotic, methadone has its own potential to cause dependence.
Methadone is a synthetic opiate drug and pain reliever. It acts on the same receptors as heroin, morphine and other opiates. While the drug does not produce the same high, it can be abused, and it also has a high risk of overdose. It was first developed in 1937 by German scientists searching for a surgical painkiller named “Dolophine.” Later, exported to the US and renamed Methadone, the drug was widely used as a treatment for heroin addiction. Unfortunately, it proved to be even more addictive than heroin.
Heroin was first manufactured in 1898 by Bayer Pharmaceuticals in Germany. It was marketed as a treatment for tuberculosis as well as a remedy for morphine addiction. Heroin can be found to be powdery white, rose gray, brown or black in color. The different colors come from additives which can include sugar, caffeine or other sometimes lethal substances. Heroin is sometimes cut with strychnine1 or other poisons. The various additives can lead to the infection or destruction of vital organs.
The buyer never knows the strength or the additives to the heroin. With every use, there is a constant and high-risk of overdose. It can be injected, smoked or sniffed. Heroin is a highly addictive drug and the withdrawal can be extremely painful.
Oxycodone is a schedule II medication (a category of drugs that have a strong potential for addiction but that have legitimate medical use) often used to treat moderate to severe pain. As useful as it is to control pain, it carries a significant risk for addiction and dependence. Oxycodone in high doses, or when combined with other drugs or alcohol, can cause respiratory distress and even death. It is a semi-synthetic opioid synthesized from thebaine, an alkaloid found in the Persian poppy.
Oxycodone brand names are OxyContin, Roxicodone, Xtampza ER, OxyIR. It is marketed either alone or in combination with other nonnarcotic analgesics such as aspirin (Percodan®) or acetaminophen (Percocet®).
Partial Opiate Agonist
Buprenorphine, Suboxone and Subutex are partial agonists drugs. These partial antagonist drugs bind to the opioid receptors in the brain, but do not have a “full agonist” effect like heroin. These drugs are often used for the treatment of heroin addiction. They can help prevent withdrawal and cravings. The downside to substitute treatment utilizing agonist drugs is that patients often develop a dependence and tolerance to the medication.
Opioid Free Treatment for Addiction
Pharmaceutical treatments for opioid dependence can be effective in the battle against addiction. However, many pose a risk for dependence and keep patients from ever being truly free of opiates. Total abstinence can be achieved in a matter of days with the Waismann Method’s rapid opiate detox. This opiate-free treatment is performed in the hospital under the guidance of doctors, anesthesiologists and other specialists.