Opioids are the fully synthetic, or man-made, versions of opiates, like heroine, methadone, morphine, and codeine.
The Origin of Opiates
Opium, that comes from the poppy plant, was originally found in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece around 3400 B.C., and spread throughout Asia. The plant was even then listed as a pleasure-inducing substance, so the mind-altering qualities of opium has always been known.
License: Creative Commons image source Fast-forward to 1805 where German pharmacist, Frederick W. Serturner, isolated morphine from opium. Morphine alone is ten times stronger than the opium plant itself, so it served as a better form of pain relief. Morphine was used in the U.S. Civil War and prescribed for many physical ailments. About 30 years later codeine was isolated from opium, and then in 1874, British chemist, C.R. Alder Wright refined morphine into heroin. Morphine is 10 times stronger than opium and heroin is 5 to 8 times stronger than morphine.
Although the idea was to use heroine to better treat pain, what really happened was a new, and quickly growing, group of people who compulsively used heroin without an ability to stop on their own. Opioid dependence, the body and brain’s reliance on an opioid, or an opiate, began, and lead to government regulation of all pain killing drugs.
Opioids As We Know Them Today
As you may know, heroin has not really gone anywhere. The drug still creates opioid dependence quickly, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that approximately 3.5 million Americans have tried heroin, and somewhere around 4.6 million Americans use prescription opiates or opioids illegally, without a medical purpose or a doctor’s prescription, each month.
Prescription painkillers, like Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, Opana, and Norco, are all opioids, and are the most abused class of pharmaceutical drugs. Opioid dependence is at an all-time high, and instead of treating actual physical pain, people are self-medicating difficult emotional pain and memories.
A Real-Life Perspective on Opioid/Opiate Addiction
One eighteen-year-old female addict*, who developed intense opioid dependence, paints the picture of her use as, “When you are loaded on heroin (or any opioid substitute), you can watch your best friend get hit by a car, all your friends could be dying, your dog could come down with rabies, and you could get AIDS, herpes, and cancer all at once and you don’t care. You’re separated from it and blocked off from your emotions.”
What Goes Up Must Come Down
The high of drug use, and the development of physical, emotional, and psychological opioid dependence, comes crashing down when real, negative life consequences happen. Maybe you lose your job and you start feeling unwell physically, so you make an effort to stop using. The problem is that once use has progressed to opioid dependence, which is evidenced by a need for more and more of the same drug to get the same high, the body’s reaction to not having the drug, the withdrawal symptoms, are nearly impossible to tolerate.
Treatment is Necessary for Opioid Dependence
Bottom line: addiction will not stop without formal treatment. Those abusing opioids and opiates need to find a program that will help them detox and heal.
*Personal story shared in the book Uppers, Downers, all-rounder, written by Darryl S. Inaba, PharmD & William E. Cohen.
Kate Green is a quality improvement manager for Balboa Horizons. She engages in her passion of helping people recovery from addiction at the treatment center she works for. Learn more about the opiate deaths on her post.