What Are Opiates?
Prescription painkillers are one of the most commonly abused substances in the country. Many painkillers we’re familiar with nowadays are opiate-based, meaning they are derived from poppy plants, specifically the seeds of poppy plants. Of the illicit drugs, the most commonly known opiates are heroin and concentrated opium.
Opiate-based narcotics are found to be abused by nearly 5% of the country’s population. This is largely due to opiates being extremely addictive not only physically, but psychologically as well. Given that doctors prescribe opiate-based painkillers for a wide variety of issues, many of which are instructed to be taken as needed, it’s no surprise that opiate addiction is a serious and rising concern.
Dangers of Opiate Addiction
Pregnant mothers beware! Women who have been using or abusing opiates, even legal prescription drugs, during pregnancy have increased risk of giving birth to a child with neonatal abstinence syndrome. This condition is similar to opiate withdrawal but is far more dangerous. Neonatal abstinence syndrome is characterized by seizures, excessive crying, sweating, vomiting, slow weight gain due to poor feeding, and sleep problems. Extra care is required for babies with this condition if they are to survive.
When taken properly by adults, opiate-based drugs, or opioids, can safely and effectively manage pain in the user. After all, that is what they are prescribed for. When abused, however, these drugs can cause severe respiratory depression, possibly even leading to death. Illicit drugs and legal prescription drugs alike, when taken in high doses, have the potential to slow down breathing to dangerous, even fatal levels.
This respiratory depression can sometimes lead to a serious condition called hypoxia. Hypoxia is a condition wherein less oxygen is able to reach the brain than normal. This decreased flow of oxygen to the brain is known to cause both short term and long term psychological and neurological effects. Permanent brain damage and coma are among the possible effects of hypoxia.
Long-term opiate abuse has also been linked to depression in many cases or has been found to exacerbate a pre-existing condition of depression in a person. Continued abuse of opioids can cause
increasing apathy in the user, especially in regards to anything outside of acquiring more opiates. Furthermore, withdrawals from opiates can intensify this depression, leading to relapse or darker, more dangerous paths, such as suicide.
As is the case with any drug, the more it is used, the user develops a tolerance to opiates. This means that the longer a person abuses opioids, the more they have to use in order to get the same effect. As expected, this can lead to severe health problems and increased risk of overdose as the user must use increasingly larger doses to get the desired effect.
Due to this increasing tolerance, abusers will abuse opioids more and more as time goes on and the addiction takes hold. According to research done by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), persons who abuse prescription opiates are more susceptible to picking up heroin use. This is because once prescriptions can no longer be obtained legally, they are more likely to turn to other sources to get the opiates they need.
Even though opiates are commonly prescribed to relieve pain, when abused over a long period, opiates can actually cause a condition called opioid-induced hyperalgesia. This is a condition in which the body actually becomes more sensitive to pain, counteracting the entire purpose for which they were originally being taken. To make matters worse, by the time this condition sets in, opioid painkillers are no longer effective for the patient and a new method of treating their pain needs to be developed.
Possibly the most dangerous aspect of opiate abuse is what it does to the user’s heart. The sedation users can experience under opiates can damage the heart, which on it’s own is already problematic. High doses of opioids, however, make the problem even worse by causing fainting, chest pains, shortness of breath, and can eventually lead to heart failure.
Is It Too Late?
It’s never too late to seek help. Addiction is a disease that can strike anyone, from any walk of life, and is a serious medical condition. It’s a progressive disease, which means it doesn’t get better on it’s own. In fact, the longer the addiction is left untreated, the worse it’s going to get and may eventually lead to death. Don’t let this happen, get help today.
Getting into a treatment program can be a daunting prospect, but it’s one of the best decisions a person can make. The sooner a person gets into treatment, they sooner they can conquer their addiction and free themselves from the chains of their addiction, taking their life back and stopping the serious damage addiction can do to both the body and the brain.