Insights of the growing crisis of prescription opiates and heroin abuse, were presented by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Some of the essential points were that abuse and addiction to opioids such as heroin, morphine is a severe global problem that is negatively affecting the health, social, and economic welfare of all societies. The consequences of this crisis have been devastating and still on the rise.
What are Opiates?
Opiates are alkaloids which come from the poppy plant and include morphine, codeine, and opium. People use this type of drug for both recreational and medicinal purposes. There are a variety of opiates drugs available, from legal painkillers to illegal one such as heroin. Some of the most common opiates available are:
- Opium- Sold in a liquid or solid form, but it is most familiar as a brownish powder. It can be smoked, taken in pill form, or injected.
- Morphine (MS Contin, Oramorph SR, Avinza, and Arymo ER) – A narcotic analgesic for acute and chronic pain management, and also very useful in providing sedation effects, before a surgical procedure. It comes in liquid, tablet, and suppository preparations.
- Codeine – A drug with antitussive properties, and it is commonly used to treat coughs and moderate pain. Is usually available in syrup and pill form (Tylenol 1 through 4).
- Heroin – Heroin comes from morphine and is an incredibly addictive opiate. Its abuse has become a growing crisis in the U.S. The drug can be used by injecting, snorting or by smoking. Heroin addiction is can be the cause of health conditions, including weak immune system, infectious diseases which include HIV/AIDS and hepatitis and even death by overdose.
How Does Opiates Work
Opiates work by altering the perception of pain rather than eliminating the pain. First, they attach to the molecules that protrude from specific nerve cells in the brain, called opioid receptors. Once connected, these cells send messages to the brain with much lower pain levels, and severity than the body is actually experiencing. Consequently, the drug user feels less pain, physically and emotionally. Throughout history, opiate drugs were used as an anesthetic remedy for nervous disorders, migraines, and other painful conditions.
Natural opiates come directly from the poppy plant, unlike synthetic ones, which are produced in laboratories and mostly for pain management purposes. Some of the synthetic opiates include Dilaudid, Demerol, Oxycodone, Vicodin, Fentanyl, and Methadone.
Opiate Effects in the Body
Opiate painkillers are potent drugs and they could be very dangerous. When improperly used, these prescription medications can have the same risks as heroin sold on the streets. Reports show that in 2012, four times more people struggled with abuse to painkillers then they did with heroin.
Regardless of what opiate we refer to, is essential to know that opiate addiction, whether painkillers or heroin, can have a severe impact on your health. In addition to the risks of abusing narcotics, sharing needles or injecting crushed pills poses its own dangers. This form of drug use can lead to permanent health issues as well as organ damage.
- Some of these adverse effects include:
- Collapsed veins
- Infected heart lining
- Respiratory depression
- Digestive system disorders
- Lower immune system response
Repeated opiate use can change how someone’s brain chemistry works, which leads to physical and emotional dependence. The body may not feel well anymore without the drug’s interaction. Additionally, withdrawal symptoms often start when a user stops taking the opiate.
Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms
Depending on the level of dependency, opiate withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe. Opiate dependency can vary by the length of time taking the drug, dosage, which formulation, the presence of a mental health issue, and individual biological factors. Often symptoms start within 4-12 hours for short-acting opiates, and within 24 hours for the longer-acting ones.
The most common withdrawal symptoms include:
- Muscle aches
- Anxiety or agitation
- Excessive yawning
- A runny nose
- Rapid heartbeat
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach cramps
- Intense cravings
Some of the psychological withdrawal symptom and cravings for opiate drugs may continue for weeks or months. Emotional issues or untreated chemical imbalance are major contributing factors for extended cravings. Adequate pharmacological support and psychological therapy can decrease these symptoms and maximize the recovery outcomes. Withdrawal symptoms are physically very similar to the flu with the addition of emotional side effects.
Signs of Opiate Addiction
Opioid addiction is a highly treatable condition. For this reason, it is essential to recognize the signs so early intervention can occur. It is not one sign or another, but a combination of atypical behaviors.
There are several things to look for:
- Mood swings with no apparent reason
- Erratic sleep patterns
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Slurred speech
- Uncoordinated movements
- Unusual deep sleep
- Pinpoint pupils
- Droopy eyes
- Many medication bottles
- Presence of drug paraphernalia
- Withdrawal from loved ones or common activities
- Increased secrecy
- Lack of interest
- Financial issues
- Early prescription refills
- Multiple doctors
- Lack of motivation
- Difficulties concentrating
- Decline in hygiene and appearance
Drug abuse and Treatment Options
An effective Opiate abuse treatment must address the physiological changes. Withdrawal symptoms may be severe and pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, hypertension and tachycardia is nothing one should go through. Inpatient medical treatment can make the detoxification stage more comfortable, safer and successful. Easing the physical symptoms can often prevent a relapse episode. However, a medical detox is just the first step in an effective opiate addiction treatment. Non-addictive medications such as Naltrexone (Depade, Revia, Vivitrol) to control cravings, emotional assessment, and professional support are essential components to achieve full and long lasting recovery.
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Source – National Institute on Drug Abuse