Opiates and opioids are powerful pain medications that have transformed the field of medicine. However, along with their benefits, these substances carry substantial risks, including addiction. The terms “opiates” and “opioids” are often used interchangeably but hold distinct meanings. Determining whether opiates or opioids are more addictive depends on various factors.
The Opioid Epidemic
The opioid epidemic refers to the widespread problem of opioid misuse, addiction, and overdose deaths. Opioids include prescription painkillers like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine, as well as illicit substances such as heroin.
The crisis gained significant attention in the United States but has also affected other countries worldwide. It is characterized by a surge in both legal and illegal opioid use, leading to addiction and numerous negative consequences.
Factors contributing to the epidemic include overprescribing of opioids by healthcare professionals, aggressive marketing strategies by pharmaceutical companies, inadequate regulation and monitoring of prescriptions, and increased availability of cheap illicit opioids.
The impact has been devastating with an increase in overdose deaths resulting from opioids. Beyond health consequences for individuals struggling with addiction, there have been associated public health costs, like treatment programs and emergency services interventions for addressing overdoses.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids are drugs that act on the opioid receptors in the brain and body to produce pain relief, sedation, and euphoria. They can be derived naturally from the opium poppy or synthesized in laboratories.
There are three main types of opioids:
1. Prescription Opioids
Healthcare professionals prescribe these medications to manage moderate to severe pain. Examples include oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine, and fentanyl.
A highly addictive illegal drug synthesized from morphine. It is typically injected or smoked for its euphoric effects.
3. Synthetic Opioids
These substances are created in laboratories and may be legally produced as prescription medications or illegally manufactured for illicit use. Fentanyl is an example of a potent synthetic opioid that is sometimes added to other drugs like heroin, cocaine, or counterfeit pills without the user’s knowledge.
What Are Opiates?
Opiates, also known as narcotic analgesics, are a subset of opioids that refer specifically to drugs derived from the opium poppy plant. Opium has been used for pain relief and medicinal purposes for centuries.
Opium naturally contains various compounds, including morphine and codeine, which have strong analgesic properties. Opiate drugs are directly extracted or derived from opium, including morphine and codeine. These drugs bind to opioid receptors in the brain and body to alleviate pain.
Common opiates include:
- Morphine: widely used in medical settings for severe pain relief
- Codeine: often found in prescription cough medicines and milder pain medications
- Heroin: a modified form of morphine
It’s important to note that while the term “opioid” encompasses both natural derivatives (opiates) as well as synthetic variations created in laboratories, “opiate” refers specifically to drugs derived directly from the opium poppy plant.
How Both Impact the Body
Opiates and opioids have similar effects on the body due to their interaction with opioid receptors in the brain and other parts of the nervous system. They bind to these receptors, altering how pain signals are transmitted and perceived.
When opioids or opiates are consumed, they can produce several effects, including:
- Pain relief: Opioids are potent analgesics that can effectively reduce pain perception.
- Euphoria and sedation: These substances can induce feelings of intense pleasure, relaxation, and drowsiness.
- Respiratory depression: Opioids depress the central nervous system, reducing breathing rate and depth. High doses or combining opioids with other depressants like alcohol can be life-threatening by slowing down respiratory function excessively.
- Constipation: Opioid use often leads to a common side effect of slowed digestive transit time resulting in constipation.
- Nausea and vomiting: Some individuals may experience gastrointestinal disturbances when taking opioids.
- Tolerance and dependence: Prolonged opioid use can lead to tolerance, where higher doses are needed for the same effect. This is accompanied by physical dependence resulting in withdrawal symptoms if drug usage stops abruptly.
- Overdose: The misuse or excessive consumption of opiates/opioids increases overdose risks leading to severe consequences such as coma or death.
Are Opiates or Opioids More Addictive?
Both opiates and opioids have the potential to be highly addictive. Addiction is a complex condition influenced by various factors, including biological, genetic, environmental, and psychological components.
That being said, both natural opiates (such as morphine and codeine) and synthetic opioids (like oxycodone or fentanyl) can lead to addiction when misused or for non-medical purposes. The addictive nature of these substances arises from their ability to produce euphoria, reinforce reward pathways in the brain, and create physical dependence over time.
However, some researchers argue that certain synthetic opioids may carry a higher risk of addiction than natural opiates due to their potency. For example, substances like illicitly manufactured fentanyl are extremely potent, even in small doses.
Why Opiate/Opioid Withdrawal Can Be Fatal
Opiate/opioid withdrawal can be potentially life-threatening due to the impact these substances have on the central nervous system and the body’s physiological processes. When a person becomes dependent on opiates/opioids, their body adjusts to the presence of these drugs.
The opioid receptors in the brain become desensitized, leading to decreased natural production of neurotransmitters like endorphins involved in pain modulation and mood regulation. If an individual suddenly stops or significantly reduces opiate/opioid use, it can trigger a range of withdrawal symptoms as the body attempts to readjust to functioning without those substances, such as:
- Profuse sweating
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
- Abdominal cramps
- Muscle aches and bone pain
- Restlessness, anxiety, irritability
- Yawning and excessive tearing and running nose
- Insomnia/disturbed sleep.
- Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
While opiate/opioid withdrawal is generally not fatal, potential complications make it dangerous if unmanaged. The risk of dehydration is high due to excessive sweating and gastrointestinal disturbances. This, combined with a lack of appetite from nausea/vomiting episodes, could rapidly lead to adverse health effects.
Psychological factors also play a role, as feelings of despair during this period may increase thoughts of self-harm and suicide. In severe cases where someone has been using very high doses or combinations involving potent synthetic opioids, sudden withdrawal can cause distressing physical changes, which potentially result in heightened risks for trauma, seizures, and irregular heartbeat.
Therefore, it’s crucial to seek medical supervision and support during opiate/opioid withdrawal.
Start a New Life Free from Opiates and Opioids in Orange County, CA
You are not alone when you are ready to take the first steps to life free from opiates and opioids. At IMS and JCAHO-accredited Pacific Sands Recovery Center in Orange County, California, we believe everyone deserves the opportunity to live drug-free. Our caring and compassionate team provides personalized support in a safe and secure environment.
Contact us today to break free from drug use.