In the minds of most Americans, opiates are pain medications that go by the names codeine, Lortab, Vicodin, oxycodone, methadone, meperidine, Percocet, OxyContin and fentanyl. To doctors and scientists, opiates are pharmaceuticals derived from the opium plant. Chemical engineers and research pharmacists have been extracting a variety of active substances out of opium, for medical purposes, for many years. These ingredients occur in the sap of the opium poppy. Natural derivatives of the poppy plant are called opiates. Opiates can be manipulated further synthetically. Such man-made drugs are called opioids.
Opiates Intended Uses
Opiate pain medications are prescribed mainly to treat moderate to severe pain. In most cases, opiates are prescribed following a surgery or procedure of some kind. These substances are highly addictive, so they pose the threat of opiate or opioid addiction to patients who take the drug for a prolonged period of time. The street drug heroin is also an opiate. It has a pharmaceutical-grade equivalent, diamorphine, which is not available for legal sale or distribution in the United States.
History asserts that the first opium poppies were cultivated in lower Mesopotamia in about 3400 B.C. The Sumerians dubbed it the joy plant. Opium killed pain and helped people sleep, so it was easy to popularize in some of their sister nations in close proximity. Eventually, the drug’s popularity spread beyond the Middle East and Asia Minor. And yes, even thousands of years ago users craved its euphoria.
For as long as the poppy seed-based medication has been in production, users took advantage of its medicinal benefits as well as the pleasure. Now, in modern society, some people misuse legally dispensed pharmaceuticals they purchase to capture bliss. Others abuse the medications they attain from friends or family. There are also networks of pill pushers who hatch schemes to deceive doctors into prescribing opioids that dealers can sell. A portion of the pure, sterile opiates—manufactured in FDA-approved factories—end up feeding the addictions of more than two million Americans each year.
An alarming number of people suffering from opiate abuse disorder end up faltering into addiction. Too often, patients develop a dependency after they fill a legitimate prescription from their physician to address an injury, illness or other genuine health condition. Those at highest risk are people who suffer from chronic illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control, up to 12 percent of patients who require ongoing opiate prescriptions end up battling opioid abuse disorder. Moreover, opiate misusers make the leap to using illicit heroin. So many of these are people who need relief from the purgatories of pain such as cancer, shingles, back injuries, burns, and surgical procedures. They used a drug for all the right reasons and found out there was a side-effect—addiction.
Opiates account for more overdoses in the United States than any other stimulants, psychoactive substances or other classes of abusable drugs. But not everyone who overdoses dies. Many survive their overdose and continue to live, delving deeper each day into the pit of opioid depression. Opiate use disorder is a disease. The lives opiate abuse has destroyed and families it has left in tatters now number in the millions. Currently, the best treatment is detox and rehab, which frequently leads patient to a triumphant return to a sober life. It is true that millions have broken the bonds of heroin addiction. Nevertheless, because heroin is so potent, it often re-entices people who have gone through detox and been in recovery for years.
Opiate Addiction Rehab
After just a few days of opiate use, the human body develops a tolerance for the drug. This is not only true with illicit street drugs like heroin. Prescription painkillers such as morphine, codeine, Fentanyl and oxycodone can trigger tolerance in people who take them under the expert care of a physician. Even patients who aren’t addicted to opiates will probably feel some withdrawal symptoms when they cease to use them.
Tolerance brings about structural changes in the brains of narcotics users. During detoxification, the mind must again rewire itself, but this time to function in the absence of the opiate. It’s a hard adjustment. Each person has a different experience. Nevertheless, it often helps patients to break down opiate detox into a project with three stages. Three smaller victories are more accessible than one large one.
When a patient arrives at a drug rehabilitation center, they’ve had their last heroin or narcotics dose. After a few hours, the symptoms of withdrawal commence. The sweating, achy joints and anxiety are joined by a whole host of other symptoms. Perhaps the strongest manifestation is an overwhelming craving for the narcotic or narcotics the patient had been using.
This is the patient’s mammoth private warfare. Their body is purging itself and coping with the drastic adjustment. Of all the organs, perhaps the brain is battling the hardest. For people who have lived with heroin addiction, the symptoms are particularly acute. Physicians may prescribe a partial opioid agonist such as Suboxone—a mixture of the two drugs buprenorphine and naloxone—to curtail some of these side effects.
A Word About Fentanyl and Carfentanil
All over America, there are numerous motivated, resourceful, astute, and rogue fentanyl chemists cooking up batches of this uber-potent morphine derivative. But perhaps calling fentanyl a morphine derivative is like calling a forest fire a campfire derivative. Fentanyl is just that much more potent than heroin. And, carfentanil is many times more powerful than fentanyl. Therefore, recovering from fentanyl and carfentanil addictions is possible. But, it’s a brutal battle, with a rough multi-step detox as well as extensive post-detox therapy.
Comparison of Common Opioids
Morphine is a 160-plus-year-old pain medication, derived from the poppy seed plant.
Meperidine is an 80-year-old synthetic near-clone of morphine.
Oxycodone is a semi-synthetic opioid developed in Germany more than 100 years ago.
Hydrocodone, available in the United States since 1978, is the opioid doctors prescribe the most in the United States. It’s semi-synthetic and quite similar to codeine.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate. It is commonly prescribed as a transdermal patch and known for being very effective and addictive.
Carfentanil is a synthetic opiate 40 to 100 times more potent than fentanyl.