How do Opiates Differ from Opium?

How do Opiates Differ from Opium?

Some people feel opiates given by doctors are safer than street versions of opium. However, the dangers of using both in wrong ways include death from overdose

Natural opiates harvested from the poppy plant are chemically similar to synthetic versions created in a lab. However, both are addictive when taken for the wrong reasons. There are slight variations among natural and synthetic versions of the drug mostly relating to a drug’s effectiveness and strength.

Opiates vs. Opium

Opium comes from the milky fluid that leaks from cuts on the unripe seed pod of the opium poppy. It is air dried and commonly sold as a fine, brownish powder. Opium is likely the world’s oldest pain medicine, acting like the brain’s natural pain managers, according to Frontline.

Opium is used in many legal forms of medicines in the U.S. Though illegal, it is sold on the black market according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The main component of opium is morphine, used by doctors to treat pain. Another form of opium is heroin, which is processed from morphine and is often cut with other substances. Heroin is the fastest acting form of opium but is also the most addictive.

Semi-synthetic opioids are made from natural opium products and other chemicals. Hydromorphone, for example, is a painkiller two to eight times as powerful as morphine. However, it lasts for a shorter time and is a stronger sedative. Other semi-synthetic forms include oxycodone and hydrocodone.

Opioids and Addiction

Opioids are man-made chemicals that act like opium. They create intense feelings of relaxation and pleasure by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain. They effect other areas of the body, including the gastrointestinal tract according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. As the drugs attach to the receptors, they reduce pain feelings and increase feelings of well-being.

Semi-synthetic and synthetic forms of the drug are designed to release at a steady rate to minimize feeling high. Taken in a way other than prescribed, they more closely mimic the faster effects of heroin and morphine. Another trait of opioids is tolerance. A person must take higher and higher doses over time to feel the same effects. This is because long term use of the drug dulls its effect on the body.

Powerful forms of opioids, such as heroin, enter the brain so quickly they cause an immediate sensation of intense pleasure. Drugs that create immediate, intense highs are likely to cause addiction. The brain’s pleasure centers overload and need more drugs to feel the same sense of euphoria, according to NIDA.

The way a person takes a drug also increases the danger of death or coma from an overdose. Snorting or injecting a powder (from a crushed pill, etc.) makes it enter the blood stream and travel to the brain faster than other methods. It is also easier to snort or inject too much and overdose.

Widespread opioid use for pain treatment creates many unintended problems. Around 2.1 million U.S. adults are addicted to prescription opioids, and 467,000 are addicted to heroin according to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Many researchers believe dramatic increases in prescribing rates for prescription opioids in the 1990s and beyond led to the current high rates of addiction. Current evidence shows that people addicted to prescription painkillers are now turning to heroin because it is more cheaply available according to NIDA. Heroin use carries greater dangers than prescriptions because it is likely to be tainted with other substances. Users who inject heroin are at greater risk for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other blood-borne diseases.

Need Help Finding Addiction Treatment?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognize that opioid addictions are at epidemic levels. Adequate addiction treatment includes options that fit each person’s unique needs. A responsible plan addresses a person’s cravings as well as any mental and social needs to achieve the best results.

Do you need help for a loved one or yourself? If you are looking for a treatment that manages mental health and substance use issues, call us today for advice. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day, every day. We help people find the best fit for addiction treatment including therapies that address a person’s needs for day-to-day support. Don’t wait to start the road toward recovery. Call our toll-free helpline, and get started on a fulfilling and enriching life.

Sources

  • http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/heroin/brain/
  • http://www.dea.gov/pr/multimedia-library/publications/drug_of_abuse.pdf#page=36
  • http://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2014/americas-addiction-to-opioids-heroin-prescription-drug-abuse
  • http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/rxbrief/