Opioid Abuse & Addiction
Opioids are drugs that alleviate pain. They are moderate to strong painkillers that all act similarly to the particular drugs which come from the poppy plant, Papaver somniferum. Opioids are also sometimes called narcotics. While opioid drugs can be very beneficial and help many people with both acute and chronic pain, they can be abused, used recreationally, and bought illegally. They are also highly addictive.
There are three main types of opioids:
- Natural opioids, according to the ISATE, are those drugs which “are derived from the dried ‘milk’ of the opium poppy.” They are called natural opioids because they come from a natural substance that is not manmade.
- Synthetic opioids are the opposite of natural opioids. They are completely manmade and “are manufactured in chemical laboratories.” They have a chemical structure that is similar to natural opioids, but they are not natural themselves.
- Semi-synthetic opioids are drugs which are derived from natural elements. They are not completely natural but come, in one way or another, from a natural source.
Opioid is a blanket term for all types of opioid-based medication. However, those drugs which naturally come from the poppy plant may be referred to as opiates. Here is a list of the common names for these drugs:
- Opioid analgesics
- Street names like junk, smack, dope
Why People Abuse Opiates
Many people are prescribed opioid medications in order to treat pain. The NIDA states that opiates “reduce the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain and affect those brain areas controlling emotion, which diminishes the effects of a painful stimulus.” Because of this, they are used for both short-term and long-term pain management. However, there are side effects that these medications can cause which makes long-term pain management difficult.
Sometimes, opioids are prescribed for different reasons. A person may be prescribed a certain type of opioid in order to help with severe coughing. Opiates also “depress body functions,” according to the DOI, which is what helps to suppress extreme coughing.
The depression of bodily functions caused by opioids is not always helpful or healthy, though. And “when taken in large doses,” these drugs can create “a strong euphoric feeling.” Because of this, there exist both street opioids and prescription opioids. Both types of drugs are regularly abused.
Which Opioids are Legal to Use?
According to the DOJ, “Narcotics/opioids are controlled substances that vary from Schedule I to Schedule V, depending on their medical usefulness, abuse potential, safety, and drug dependence profile.” Schedule I drugs “have no medical use in the U.S. and are illegal to distribute, purchase, or use outside of medical research.” These drugs in the opioid class are:
Schedule II drugs have some medicinal benefits and are used in the medical field by prescription only. If a person is using these drugs without a prescription, it is illegal. These drugs in the opioid class are:
Any of the other opioid drugs usually fall under Schedule III or IV, with a lower abuse potential than Schedule II and I drugs but still controlled substances.
If you are taking opioids prescribed to you by a doctor and you have not deviated from your prescription, nor have you sought to obtain these drugs in any other way, you have nothing to worry about legally. Those who abuse Schedule I drugs, or those who use other opioids without a prescription, buying and selling them, are the ones who are acting illegally.
What Problems Can Be Caused by Opioids?
Opioids can cause many issues for users. Depending on how you use opioids, you may experience different problems.
Opioids have a number of side effects which can be very uncomfortable. Two of the most common are constipation and nausea. These can be countered with other medications, the use of which should be monitored by your doctor as well. However, these side effects can be very problematic for many users. Some of the other side effects caused by opioids are:
- Mood swings
- Coordination impairment
- Depressed breathing
- Depressed heartbeat
- Loss of appetite
- Slowed speech and reflexes
- Stomach pain
Opioid medications like oxycodone can cause chest pains, “swelling of the face, throat, tongue,” etc., and seizures as a sign of a more serious condition, according to the NLM. If any of these issues occur for you, call your doctor immediately.
Respiratory depression is an extreme problem involved with opioid drugs. If you are taking opioids for pain relief or another reason, it is especially important not to mix these drugs with alcohol. The DOI states that “narcotics’ effects are multiplied when used in combination with other depressant drugs and alcohol, causing increased risk of an overdose.”
Tolerance & Dependence
Tolerance and dependence can both occur, even if the individual taking opioids is not abusing them.
- Tolerance is a condition where the amount of the drug which first produced the desired effect does not anymore. After this occurs, many people begin to take more and more opioids in order to achieve the original or desired effect which is a form of abuse. This can lead to:
- Dependence is a condition where the person will feel as if he or she needs the drug and cannot function normally without it. As stated by the NIDA, “Physical dependence is a normal adaptation to chronic exposure to a drug.” However, it can lead to issues and necessary treatments such as:
- Opioid withdrawal
The NIH states that “addiction disorder occurs in about 5 percent of people who take [prescription opioids] as directed over the period of a year.” The number is higher for illegal opioids like heroin. Addiction can occur as opiates are habit-forming, produce feelings of euphoria and calmness, and cause dependence, tolerance, and other issues which can lead to addiction. Treatment is needed for those who become addicted to either illegal or prescription drugs.
Opioids are commonly used drugs which can be obtained “from friends, family members, medicine cabinets, pharmacies, nursing homes, hospitals, hospices, doctors, and the Internet.” Remembering to use opioids carefully and only under the prescription of a doctor will help keep you from some of the more problematic, illegal, and harmful consequences of opioid abuse.