Opiates are a group of narcotics, either natural, partially synthetic, or synthetic, derived from the poppy plant or chemically synthesized in laboratory settings. Most forms are created synthetically, but there are a few naturally occurring forms, such as morphine and opium. This class of drugs includes both legal and illegal drugs. Legally prescribed opioids, like morphine, codeine, and oxycodone, are usually prescribed for pain relief and to induce sleep. The opioids are often used illegally without prescription. Heroin is an example of an Illegal opiate. All opioids are considered highly addictive, mainly because of the intense euphoric feeling it induces, as well as their pain-relieving properties. Unfortunately it is all too common for individuals who were initially legally prescribed an opiate, like someone with a pain disorder, to eventually become addicted to or dependent on that narcotic, and end up abusing it illegally.
Opiates are most often used legally to help people cope with pain, but they are also commonly used recreationally. Opiates bind to the natural opioid receptors in a person’s brain, imitating specific chemicals that are related to sensations of pleasure, pain relief, and reward. When used properly (as prescribed), legal opiates can be a highly effective form of pain relief, especially if other attempts to relieve the pain have been unsuccessful, or if the pain is very severe. Unfortunately, they are among the most abused types of substances available because of both their positive psychological properties and pain relieving properties.
Often when opiates and opioids are abused or taken illegally, the user alters the route of administration in some way. For example, users frequently grind the pills up into a powder form, which is then either smoked, snorted, and mixed with water and injected straight into the blood stream. Altering the method of ingestion usually drastically increases the speed of absorption, causing the user to experience a “rush” of strong, generally desirable or positive, sensations. Even when taken legally, as prescribed, a patient is likely to experience a lesser effect of those positive sensations, making the potential for addiction and abuse very high, which could require further treatment. Addiction can happen extremely fast, in just a matter of days psychologically, with physical dependence possible within just 4 to 6 weeks.
Opiate abuse and addiction can have a wide variety of negative effects and consequences in all aspects of a person’s life. Some of the more short-term effects, like withdrawal symptoms, can include: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, shakes, muscle aches and cramps, anxiety, irritation or agitation, cravings, insomnia, and suicidal thoughts.
Some of the long-term effects that can affect all aspects of a person’s life can include: work and school problems, like attention, productivity, and attendance; social problems, like isolation and losing support from friends and family; financial problems; health consequences like insomnia, lung and liver damage, infections in the heart and pulmonary complications, collapsed veins, kidney damage, and abscesses; death from suicide or overdose; and involuntary commitment to a mental hospital or incarceration for drug related crimes.