Opiate DefinedOpiates are chemicals culled from the poppy plant, Papaver somniferum. Humans have cultivated these plants for thousands of years to produce opium, which has medicinal properties, including as a treatment for pain, as a cough suppressant, an anti-diarrheal, and to induce sleep. In addition to these effects, opium can also generate intense feelings of well-being, which is the primary reason why opiates and opioids are so addictive. Opium alkaloids, the chemicals that are responsible for these medicinal and recreational effects, are often referred to as “opiates.” Opium alkaloids can be used as stand-alone drugs or in the synthesis of other compounds and include the following:
MorphineMorphine is the most abundant alkaloid found in opium and is also the compound that has been used most often for medical purposes. Morphine is frequently administered to manage pain but is also a critical component in deriving a number of semi-synthetic medications, such as hydromorphone. Heroin also comes from morphine but is much more potent.
CodeineCodeine is another important opium alkaloid that is used as a medicinal compound and to derive semi-synthetic substances. In addition to the treatment of pain, codeine is also found in some prescription cough syrups.
ThebaineThebaine is the most virulent of the opium alkaloids, but it is used in the manufacture of popular semi-synthetic painkilling medications, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.
Opioid DefinedAn opioid is any substance that can be consumed, snorted, inhaled, or injected that acts on opioid receptors in the body. Opioid receptors are proteins that can be found in the brain, spinal cord, and digestive tract, and also interact with compounds the body makes naturally, known as endogenous opioids. In addition to heroin, semi-synthetic opioids include prescription medications such as the following:
- Oxymorphone (Opana)
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, Lorcet)
- Oxycodone (OxyContin, Oxecta, Roxicodone)
- Hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo)
- Fentanyl (Abstral, Actiq, Fentora, Duragesic, Lazanda, Subsys)
- Methadone (Methadose, Dolophine)
- Meperidine (Demerol)
- Tramadol (ConZip, Ryzolt, Ultram)
Narcotics DefinedThe term “narcotic” has historically been used in reference to a number of psychoactive substances. Today, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) more explicitly defines narcotic drugs as those that alleviate pain and dull the senses, characteristics most commonly associated with opiate and opioid drugs. Naturally occurring opiates, semi-synthetic, and synthetic and opioids are considered to be narcotics, which include both legally prescribed and illicit variations. Below is a list of the most commonly used narcotics and opioids drugs:
Opioid vs Opiate vs NarcoticsWhat is important is that regardless of the distinction or word usage, any opioid or opiate has the potential to treat pain and other medical conditions, but are also frequently abused and can cause dependence. And although some people use the term “narcotic” more broadly, it most accurately refers to opioids and not other types of drugs.
Opioid Dependence and WithdrawalAll opioids and opiates carry some potential for tolerance and dependence. Generally speaking, stronger opioids, especially if they are snorted, smoked, or injected, are more dangerous in this regard than weaker ones, but all can become habit-forming. Over time, repeated exposure to these drugs can produce tolerance, a condition in which the user needs to administer increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the desired effect. Closely related is dependence, a condition that occurs when a person is forced to the drug to prevent unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and mitigate cravings. The length of time it takes to become physically dependent on these substances varies with each person, and also depends on the drug itself, the usual method of administration, and the average amount and frequency it is being used. Moreover, when the person discontinues using the drugs, the body needs time to recover and reestablish a balance. During this time, withdrawal symptoms manifest, usually within a few hours, and can last several days. Withdrawal from opioids can occur any time prolonged use is stopped or significantly reduced.
Opioid Withdrawal SymptomsOpioid withdrawal symptoms are very uncomfortable but are usually not life-threatening. Early symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Muscle aches
- Increased tearing
- Runny nose
- Abdominal cramping
- Nausea and vomiting
Opioid OverdoseTaking excessive amounts of an opioid or combining it with other drugs or alcohol can result in a life-threatening overdose. If you suspect someone is experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately. Symptoms of an opioid overdose include the following:
- Confusion, delirium, or acting drunk
- Frequent vomiting
- Breathing problems, such as slowed or labored breathing
- Excessive sleepiness, or the inability to wake up
- Periodic loss of consciousness
- Respiratory arrest
- Cold, clammy skin, or bluish skin (cyanosis) around the lips or under the fingernails