Opiates include controlled prescription substances that are derived from opium, which is a chemical that naturally occurs in poppy seeds and plants. These drugs, which are clinically used for treating mild to severe pain in patients, are also referred to as “opioid painkillers.” Due to their intensely calming effects, opioid painkillers have tremendously high rates of abuse which, in many cases, can lead to addiction.
In the United States, 259 million opioid painkiller prescriptions were written in 2012. An estimated 2 million people later developed an addiction.
An addiction to painkillers often begins after someone is prescribed the medication for pain following an accident or injury. Patients are given a prescription and specified dose from a doctor, with no intention of abusing the medication. However, over a period of time, a person may feel that the drug is no longer as effective as it was in the beginning. This feeling is caused by an increased tolerance to the painkillers, which means that the substance has built up within a person’s body.
A tolerance can also cause a person to take larger doses than their recommended amount in order to achieve the effects they want. Increasing the medication dosage can lead to a physical dependence, which is characterized by growing urges to continue using the drug – despite negative consequences that may occur.
When a person’s drug-seeking behavior scales completely out of control and begins to compromise their physical and psychological health, a full-blown addiction is present. Addiction is far more serious than a strong desire to use drugs – it is a neurological disease that feels inescapable to the person suffering.
An individual who struggles with a substance abuse disorder will often wish to quit but feels unable to do so on their own. The only way a person can fully overcome the grips of an addiction to opioid painkillers is by seeking treatment at an inpatient rehab center.
Types of Opiates
Opiates are prescribed for a wide range of medical needs. There are two main classifications for this type of drug: antagonists and agonists.
Antagonists, which include clonidine and buprenorphine, do not contain any addictive effects or potential for abuse. Instead, they are used to help with the detoxification process, which often takes place as the first part of addiction treatment.
Agonists, on the other hand, include drugs like morphine and fentanyl, which are most commonly used in medical settings and have the strongest effects. Substances in this category carry the highest potential for abuse and addiction within their class.
The most common opiate agonists can be found in the list below.
Manufactured to relieve mild to moderate pain and coughing, codeine is less potent than other opioid painkillers. It is easily obtained with a prescription, as well as in some over-the-counter medicines. Commonly abused among young adults, codeine is often combined with sugary drinks to create a mixture referred to as “purple drank” or “sizzurp.”
Though now banned by the FDA, Darvocet and Darvon are propoxyphene-based painkillers that were responsible for thousands of hospitalizations and deaths during their prime. While these prescriptions are no longer being produced, a black market still exists for this drug.
A narcotic used to treat moderate to severe pain, Demerol is less frequently prescribed in modern times because of its high potential for addiction. Demerol is the brand name for meperidine, which has euphoric effects similar to morphine.
Sometimes referred to as “hospital grade heroin,” Dilaudid is a powerful type of painkiller. Available in extended-release tablets, Dilaudid abuse can quickly lead to breathing problems or even death.
A synthetic painkiller that is up to 100 times as potent as morphine, fentanyl is only prescribed in cases of severe pain. When used in conjunction with other painkillers such as heroin, fentanyl can quickly lead to overdose and other dangerous side effects.
A main ingredient in many powerful painkillers, hydrocodone can be found in drugs such as Vicodin. It is typically combined with acetaminophen or ibuprofen, but the FDA has also approved pure hydrocodone medications.
An opioid used for moderate to severe pain, methadone is also used as a way to curb cravings for people who are addicted to other substances, including heroin. Despite its use for helping treat other addictions, methadone is still an addictive substance in its own right.
Morphine has been touted as a godsend for people suffering from severe chronic pain. It is also one of the most addictive substances known and responsible for a large amount of unintentional drug-related deaths nationwide.
Oxycodone is sold under different brand names including OxyContin and Percocet. It is a widely prescribed painkiller and has a high potential for abuse.