You already most likely know about the growing crisis of the opioid epidemic that is growing all across the country. We hear a lot of talk going on about the growing number of addicts and overdose cases but most of us know very little, if anything at all, about opioids, addiction, and the crisis. That needs to change and that is why it has become our mission to help educated the general public on the details of the opioid crisis and to raise awareness. And that begins with understanding what opioids and opiates are.
Difference You Need to Know
“Opiates are drugs derived from opium. At one time “opioids” referred to synthetic opiates only (drugs created to emulate opium, however different chemically). Now the term Opioid is used for the entire family of opiates including natural, synthetic and semi-synthetic. Medical professionals use the word opioid to refer to most opioids, and opiate for a specific non-synthetic opioid; however, many only use opioid” (NAABT). For all intents and purposes, an opioid is a compound, whether natural or synthetic, that seeks out and then binds to opioid receptors and specialized nerve receptors that are primarily located in the central nervous system and gastrointestinal tract. These opioid compounds then affect these receptors and elicit a response, which is the bulk of the ‘high’ effect that users are after when they become addicted to opioids. There are four broad classes of opioids:
- Endogenous opioid- commonly known as endorphins, these are natural occurring
- Opium alkaloids- potent man-man opioids such as morphine and codeine
- Semi-synthetic- combine natural and man-made: heroin, oxycodone, Buprenorphine
- Fully synthetic– purely man-made and are unrelated to the natural opium alkaloids
Common Forms of Opioids
Examples of the most common opioids that are encountered today are: painkillers such as Buprenorphine, hydrocodone, morphine, methadone, and oxycodone. Heroin also is a type of opioid and one of the most potent and dangerous of the illegal drugs and is at the center of the opioid addiction crisis today. Opioid drugs sold under brand names include: OxyContin®, Percocet® , Vicodin® , Percodan® , Tylox® and Demerol® among others.
What Opioids do to and in the Body
Opioids attach to receptors in the brain where they affect the nerves and the chemical messages that get sent to and from the brain and the rest of the body. Once attached to the receptors, the opioids send signals to the brain that blocks pain, slows breathing, and has a general calming and anti-depressing effect. This is known as the opioid effect and it is important to remember that this “high” that comes from an opioid is not intoxication or impairing as it is with alcohol. It is a calm and relaxing and in some ways a feeling of awakening or heightened awareness and a feeling of peace and wellness while the high lasts. The body naturally produces a version of opioids to help with pain management and to help the body cope with sudden trauma and stress- known as the adrenalin and endorphins. It must be noted though that natural opioids made by the body are not strong enough to stop severe or chronic pain nor can it produce enough to cause an overdose- this is why synthetic pain killers were made and with this additional strength comes the risk for misuse and addiction.
The High of Opioids
To understand why people use and abuse opioids and pain killers, it is critical to understand the appeal they have and the effects they bring to users. At low to moderate doses the opioids high is different than that of alcohol, or marijuana, or hallucinogens. It instead provides feelings of intense joy and comfort, more so than can be obtained naturally. Many describe it as the rush of pride and accomplishment, great achievement, contentedness at finishing a goal, and being praised for great accomplishments. At higher doses, a more relaxed and calm feeling and breathing is slowed, eventually to the point of death. This respiratory depression most often is what leads to death in an overdose case and the effect is even worse when other medications that cause drowsiness and repressed breathing are used at the same time. A non-lethal dose of both an opioid and other similar medication taken together can be fatal. With opioids there is a small window between euphoria and death and it is next to impossible to gauge how close one is to that line and far too often people fall over that line into overdose without realizing it until it is too late.
The Opioid Crisis
We hear a lot of talk going on about the growing number of addicts and overdose cases but most of us know very little, if anything at all, about opioids, addiction, and the crisis. That needs to change and that is why it has become our mission to help educated the general public on the details of the opioid crisis and to raise awareness.