According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “when misused, opioid pain relievers can lead to overdose incidents and deaths.” With overdoses on the rise, opiate use has become an epidemic over the past few decades.
Understanding Opiate Drugs And What They’re Capable Of
When a person uses opiates, the chemicals in the drug hijack the natural opioid receptors in the central nervous system and brain, then replace the dopamine with synthetic dopamine. Suddenly that person feels happy and experiences a sudden rush of ease, well-being, and euphoria. As opiate abuse continues, the brain stops producing natural dopamine because there’s an abundance of it.
Since dopamine is what makes a person feel happy, this is part of the reason that someone becomes irritable when they run out of opiates. Additionally, this same person needs more of the drug to get the same effects, which is a lot of the reason that overdose is so common with opiates; people are taking more than their bodies can handle. Thus addiction is formed. In any case, “regular use—even as prescribed by a doctor—can lead to dependence” (NIDA).
What Are The Most Commonly Abused Opiate Drugs?
Opiates can range from a scant potential for abuse in Schedule III drugs like Tylenol with Codeine; to higher potential for abuse but still legal with a script, in Schedule II prescription painkillers. Then there are Schedule I drugs with “no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse” (Drug Enforcement Administration).
Cough suppressants containing Codeine are considered Schedule V drugs. Opiates and synthetic opiates all come from one common idea—the opium plant; which produces drugs like morphine and then further down the line, heroin. Some of the most commonly abused opiates are:
What Are The Short-Term Effects Of Opiates?
The short-term effects of opiate drugs are “pain relief, drowsiness, nausea, constipation, euphoria, confusion, slowed breathing, death” (NIDA). Not everyone reacts with opiates the same way and this can depend on other variables like age, weight, the amount used, tolerance, diet, the frequency of use and type of opiate. There are a lot of different types of opiate but the most dangerous drugs tend to be fentanyl, oxycodone, tramadol, heroin, and morphine—and the more people use them, the more of a problem it becomes.
How To Tell If Someone Is Addicted To Or Abusing Opiates
Opiate addiction isn’t always apparent, but sometimes the short-term effects of opiates will shed more light than expected. On top of that, those who abuse opiates will spend a lot of time alone, often become irritable, drowsy or have an increased tolerance. Unfortunately, as a person becomes addicted to opiates, they may lose interest in hobbies, social activities, drive or even have unexplainable financial issues. They may begin to use more of the drug—which is likely to lead to overdose.
Then consequently as with the long-term use of many other drugs, when the opiates wear-off, the withdrawal symptoms begin to set in—these are generally what keeps an opiate user coming back.
Signs Of An Opiate Overdose
Not every opiate overdose or overdose timeline looks the same. They can depend widely on how much of a drug a person has used; along with other variables like other drugs involved or type of opiate at hand. Some of the most common signs of an opiate overdose are:
- Acting drunk or uncoordinated
- Shrunken pupils
- Blue or black fingernails
- Clammy and pale skin
- The skin may also change to a darker blue or grayish tone
- Inability to communicate effectively
- Shallow breathing, or no breathing
- Choking or vomiting
- Heart rate slows down or offbeat
- Muscles and body becomes limp
- Loss of consciousness
America’s Addiction To Opiates
The United States of America isn’t the only country that deals with an opiate epidemic; this is an issue much bigger than that, it reaches every country on the globe and it isn’t ceasing. “Opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, more than any year on record. Nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid” (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).
Not everyone starts using opiates with the intention of euphoria or “getting high,” but the amount of people who end up abusing the drug is astounding. Nora D. Volkow M.D. of the National Institute on Drug Abuse stated that “it is estimated that between 26.4 million and 36 million people abuse opioids worldwide, with an estimated 2.1 million people in the United States suffering from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012 and an estimated 467,000 addicted to heroin” (NIDA).
Doctor Volkow went on to reveal that “the consequences of this abuse have been devastating and are on the rise. For example, the number of unintentional overdose deaths from prescription pain relievers has soared in the United States, more than quadrupling since 1999.”
If It’s Such A Problem—Why Is Opiate Abuse Still On The Rise?
There are a few potential factors that remain constant as to why opiate abuse is on the rise. One theory from NIDA is that “they include drastic increases in the number of prescriptions written and dispensed, greater social acceptability for using medications for different purposes, and aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies. These factors together have helped create the broad ‘environmental availability’ of prescription medications in general and opioid analgesics in particular.”
Treatment For Opiate Addictions
An addiction to opiates is a very serious problem that can be best treated in an inpatient rehabilitation setting. Medical detoxification is often necessary to deal with them to help individuals get through the physical withdrawal. A detox may be paired with medication-assisted therapy can help as well to make withdrawals easier to handle. Medical detox is just the first step in the healing process and should be followed up by inpatient care that is tailored to the person’s individual needs.
Begin Your Road To Recovery Today
If you or someone you care about is struggling with opiates, call Vertava Health of Massachusetts today at (888) 910-1164 to speak with a treatment specialist.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse — America's Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse
- National Institute on Drug Abuse — Commonly Abused Drugs Charts
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention — Opioid Overdose