People have been
using natural plant extracts to help heal and relieve pain for thousands of
years. The opium poppy plant is one such
natural pain reliever. Drugs derived
from the opium poppy include morphine, heroin, codeine, and opium.
Drugs derived from
this plant have the powerful ability to relieve pain. However, they also are highly addictive.
Opioids are actually
synthetic pain relieving drugs, or at least made partly of synthetic materials
in a lab. Opioids work in much the same
way as opiates, but they don’t require the opium poppy to be manufactured.
Some examples of
opioids include fentanyl, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, methadone, and
pethidine. These are prescribed by
physicians to relieve both acute and chronic pain. Like natural opiates, opioids are highly
Both Work in the Same Way
Both opiates and
opioids work in a similar fashion. They
have chemicals that when taken internally will bind to opioid receptors on nerve
cells. When they bind to those
receptors, the nerve cells tell the brain that the pain is lower than it
Over time it takes
more and more of the drugs to provide the same feeling of relief. At the same time if someone who is not in
physical pain takes the drugs they will provide a feeling of euphoria (a high
feeling) and also relaxation.
Many people who
become physically and psychologically addicted to these medications start by
being prescribed them for legitimate pain.
But over time they become dependent on the drugs to feel normal or even
to escape psychological pain.
In the early days of
opioid manufacturing, physicians were told that these synthetic medications
were not addictive and they began prescribing them widely. However, years of research and experience now
show that these substances are highly addictive.
While most of these
drugs can be prescribed, there are still non-prescription drugs such as heroin
that are illegal. Unfortunately, many
people who become addicted to prescription opiates and opioids move on to
heroin when they’ve exhausted the ability to obtain prescriptions.
Along with the
dangers of addiction and overdose, injection drug use also comes with risks of
infection from hepatitis C and HIV.
Along with the opioid crisis, the rate of these infections is increasing
in the United States.
associated with heroin use is that street drugs are often cut with other
ingredients. There is no regulation for
street drugs. Often they are cut with
synthetic drugs that make the heroin even more dangerous and increase the
likelihood of an overdose.
While there are
drugs that can help to reverse the effects of these drugs in the case of
overdose, they aren’t always effective against heroin that is cut with
synthetic drugs. The medical community
is working to reduce the amount of prescriptions for opiate and opioid pain
medications in an effort to prevent future addiction issues.