Opioids

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Opioids, including prescription opioid medications and heroin, are a class of drugs synthesized from the opium poppy plant. Also known as narcotic drugs, opioids include illegal drugs, such as heroin and opium, and prescription painkillers, such as hydrocodone, fentanyl and codeine.

Prescription opioid drugs may be prescribed for treating varying levels of acute pain associated with an injury, pain after a surgical procedure or painful coughing due to an illness, or to help patients manage chronic pain. Some types of opioid pain medications may be combined with drugs such as acetaminophen, an over-the-counter medication used to reduce fever and pain.

Heroin, on the other hand, is an illegal drug that is purchased by users on the street as a brown or white powder, or black, tar-like substance. Heroin can be smoked, snorted or injected. Both heroin and prescription opioid painkillers are highly addictive drugs that can be dangerous when abused.

How Do Opioids Work?

All opioid prescription drugs work by binding to opioid receptors that exist naturally in the brain, spinal cord and throughout the entire body. Once heroin enters the body, it is converted into morphine before it can attach to opioid receptors. When opioid drugs bind to opioid receptors, the signals from the brain are dampened and help to reduce a person’s sensation of pain. Opioid drugs also produce euphoria and arousal by acting on the brain’s reward system. The brain’s reward system is also responsible for producing the initial “rush” of euphoria that occurs in intravenous heroin users.

Opioid Drug Abuse

People who abuse prescription opioid medications and heroin are at risk of serious health consequences, physical dependence, fatal drug overdoses, addiction and death. Prescription opioid medications and heroin are addictive drugs that can quickly produce tolerance and physical dependence, and opioid users often increase their doses over time to achieve the desired effect of the drug. People who take increasingly higher doses of opioids greatly increase their risk of a drug overdose, which can be fatal.

People who abuse opioids, particularly those who are intravenous heroin users, may experience an initial “rush” followed by alternating states of drowsiness and wakefulness, known as “on the nod.” Other side effects of opioid drug use include:

  • Absence of pain (analgesia)
  • Sedation
  • Euphoria
  • Dry mouth
  • Reduced perception of pain
  • Feeling of heaviness in extremities
  • Drowsiness
  • Clouded thinking
  • Slowed breathing
  • Small pupils
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Itching
  • Flushed skin
  • Constipation
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Poor judgment

Health Consequences Of Opioid Abuse

Over time, opioid drug abuse can contribute to a number of negative health effects. Intravenous heroin users are at a particularly high risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections such as hepatitis C and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Other long-term effects of opioid drug abuse include:

  • Depression
  • Increased pain sensitivity (hyperalgesia)
  • Tolerance
  • Physical dependence
  • Addiction
  • Collapsed veins
  • Clogged blood vessels
  • Infections of heart valves
  • Gastrointestinal cramping
  • Liver or kidney disease
  • Lung damage
  • Hallucinations
  • Slowed breathing rate
  • Risk of choking
  • Pulmonary complications (e.g., pneumonia)
  • Spontaneous abortions
  • Abscesses
  • Coma
  • Compromised immune system
  • Fatal overdoses
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Death

Opioids are the most common drugs that lead to overdose. People who overdose due to opioids can experience suppressed breathing, hypoxia (lack of oxygen reaching the brain), coma and permanent brain damage.

Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Opioid abuse can greatly increase the risk of becoming physically dependent on the drug and experiencing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if the user reduces or stops using the opioids. People who develop physical dependence on the drug are more likely to overdose and develop addiction. For this reason, opiate detox centers should offer 24-hour medical monitoring and detoxification in addition to other evidence-based treatments for treating patients with opioid use disorders.

Patients in opiate rehab programs are generally weaned off, as the withdrawal symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and even dangerous. Some withdrawal symptoms include sleep problems (e.g., insomnia), agitation, anxiety, muscle aches, vomiting, diarrhea and tremors.

Opioid Addiction

As prescription opioid drugs and heroin are highly addictive drugs, abuse and addiction is very common. Opioid addiction is also referred to as an opioid use disorder. Opioid use disorders are characterized by compulsive drug use, an uncontrollable urge to use the drug, and continuing to take the opioids despite negative consequences that result (e.g., legal, health, financial etc.).

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Opioid Addiction

As prescription opioid drugs and heroin are highly addictive drugs, abuse and addiction is very common. Opioid addiction is also referred to as an opioid use disorder. Opioid use disorders are characterized by compulsive drug use, an uncontrollable urge to use the drug, and continuing to take the opioids despite negative consequences that result (e.g., legal, health, financial etc.).

Opioid Addiction Treatment

Sovereign Health of Arizona’s opioid addiction treatment program offers comprehensive and individualized treatment services to women with opioid use disorders. We also offer opioid treatment programs to women who have mental illness and co-occurring conditions.

At Sovereign Health of Arizona’s opiate rehab centers, our team of health care professionals is experienced in opiate addiction recovery. If you are interested in learning more about Sovereign Health of Arizona’s opioid treatment programs for women, contact our admissions staff at our 24/7 helpline.

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