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What are Opiates?

Sometimes referred to as opioids, opiate drugs are a group of Schedule I and II drugs that are synthesized by processing the milk harvested from an opium poppy plant. They’re classified as analgesic pain relievers and central nervous system depressants that bind to opioid receptors in the brain.

Drug scheduling is a classification protocol the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does; the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) then uses it. Some opiates in this class are Schedule II drugs that have some clinical value but a high potential for abuse or dependency. Others categorized as Schedule I due to their lack of medicinal efficacy.

The terms opioid and opiate are often used interchangeably, but opioid usually refers to a synthetic or semi-synthetic form of the drug that’s manufactured in a lab by modeling the molecular structure of morphine. From its raw form, opium is transformed from a white, milky substance to a clear or slightly tinted, sticky liquid. It’s then further refined to create morphine, which is the basis for all other opiates.

When first refined, morphine produces a clear liquid or a crystalline powder that’s white to tan in color. Some cheap, illegal opiates like heroin are dark brown due to the number of impurities. Pharmaceutical companies manufacture most tablets in their labs. However, illegal factories produce some like fentanyl. The powder or crushed tablets are snorted or smoked. Intravenous drug users dilute the powdered opiates in water and inject them.

Are Opiates Addictive?

Opiates are some of the most abused and highly addictive drugs around. The opioid crisis has hit every demographic of American society and claimed a record number of victims. Unfortunately, each year since the crisis began breaks records from the previous year.

More than 42,000 people have died due to opiate overdose since 2016. In 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. This designation allows organizations and treatment centers around the country to receive government funding to study addiction rates and develop or subsidize programs to combat opiate addiction. Mandating health care coverage to treat substance use disorders means recovery is accessible to anyone who needs it at an opiate addiction treatment center.

Addiction Versus Dependence

Opiate drugs are subject to abuse due to their addictive properties and easy path to physical dependency. Even people taking legally prescribed opiates can become dependent if prescribed for more than short-term pain management. Dependency doesn’t mean addiction. Although persons addicted to opiates are often physically dependent on them, too.

Unfortunately, habitual use only increases tolerance for the drug. It doesn’t change the lethal dosage.

Statistics will show the harm opiate drugs have on society.

Opiate Abuse Statistics

The results of studies conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and other health and research organizations paint a devastating picture of opiate abuse in our country. Opiate abuse statistics have been on an upward trend since the late 1990s, coming to a peak in 2016.

Although the government itself doesn’t collect data abuse substance abuse, it does rely on information gathered by organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and National Center for Health Statistics to shape drug enforcement and health policy.

In 2016 the opioid crisis reached record highs for overdose death and usage; 2017 broke some of those records. One big factor was the rise in fentanyl abuse and the related death toll. Of the 72,000 who died from drug overdose in 2017, 30,000 died from a fentanyl overdose.

Fentanyl may be the most recent trend in opiate abuse, but it is far from the only drug.

Opiates List

Many people taking prescription drugs and their loved ones may wonder which of their medications are opiates. A comprehensive list of opiates might answer those questions, or at least tell friends and family members what to look for if they’re concerned.

There are three types of opiates, natural, synthetic, and semi-synthetic. Deriving 100 percent from the opium poppy are natural opiates. Synthetics and semi-synthetic, artificially made products of modern chemistry, modeled on the chemical structure of morphine. Many are illegal street drugs, but a large number are perfectly legal prescription medications; not all opioids are narcotics.

Synthetic Opioids

Synthetics drugs look to cause the brain to react in the same way as the real thing. They bind to the same neurotransmitters as natural opiates, and they produce the same side-effects and withdrawal symptoms when someone stops taking them.

Common Synthetic Opiates Include:

  • Dextromethorphan: a non-prescription, non-narcotic opioid-based substance that’s sold as an additive to cold remedies or a cough suppressant under the brands like NyQuil, Theraflu, and Robitussin
  • Dextropropoxyphene: a prescription pain reliever sold as Darvon and Darvocet-N
  • Loperamide: used to control diarrhea

Semi-Synthetic Opioids

Semi-synthetic opiates combine the alkaloid properties of natural and man-made drugs. Some semi-synthetics treat long-term or severe addictions by producing a milder effect controlling withdrawal symptoms enough to prevent a full relapse.

  • Methadone: sold under the brand, Dolophine, it’s a full agonist opioid drug that used to manage withdrawal and prevent relapse with heavy or long-term users. Due to increased abuse, there are alternative treatments available with partial- or anti-agonist drugs like Suboxone.
  • Codeine: Prescribed in a pure form as a cough suppressant or added to prescription-strength cough remedies. Sometimes it is mixed with liquid acetaminophen. In some countries, you can buy codeine over-the-counter. However, availability in the US is prescription only.
  • Oxycodone: the generic name for Percocet, Percodan, and deadly brands like Oxycontin
  • Hydrocodone: sold under the brand name Vicodin, it’s one of the most prescribed pain relievers on the market
  • Fentanyl and its analogs: Mostly manufactured and sold illegally, but it’s also sold under the brand names Sublimaze and Ultiva.
  • Carfentanyl/carfentanil: an extremely powerful and deadly synthetic opioid that’s up to 200 times the strength of fentanyl and indicated for use on animals only.

Natural Opiates

  • Opium: A natural substance originating from Greece, the Middle East, and Asia. In wide use as a recreational drug in the infamous “Opium Dens” up until the 1920s, which may have caused one of the first opiate epidemics.
  • Morphine: Named after the Greek God of Dreams. Originally administered on battlefields to treat wounded soldiers. Prescriptions began in the 1800s and earlier for a range of medical purposes. Under a doctor’s supervision using it is legal, but it can be abused illegally.
  • Heroin: an illegal, dangerous, and a highly addictive street drug, it has gone up and down in popularity over the decades. Use has surged lately since it is a cheap, widely available alternative for those with opiate addictions. An estimated 80 percent of people in treatment for heroin addiction started with prescription opioids.

Stepping Stone Opiate Addiction Treatment Center

Alternatives to prescription painkillers exist. Also, new treatments for chronic pain develope every day. There’s also hope and help available at a reputable rehabilitation center like Stepping Stone’s opiate addiction treatment center for those who are in the grips of substance abuse or addiction.

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