Opioids are one of the largest classes of prescribed medications, and the largest class of prescribed substances of abuse. They have been around for hundreds of years and used in every situation from treating battlefield wounds, to chronic pain, and as antitussive cough suppressants.

What Are Opiates?

Opiates are a class of drugs derived from opium, a product derived from the poppy plant, and its seeds. They are painkillers used to treat moderate to severe pain, and are also known as 'opioid painkillers.' The euphoria that they exhibit makes them highly addictive substances. They range in class from street drugs in Schedule I with no medical use, like heroin, to the weakest of the group in class V, represented by antitussive cough syrups and a medication used to treat chronic diarrhea known as diphenoxylate.

Opiates begin as pure opium and are then transformed into various products like morphine, codeine, and heroin.

Naturally occurring Opiates:

  • morphine
  • codeine
  • opium
  • heroin

Semi-Synthetic Opiates:

  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab)
  • Oxycodone (Oxycontin)
  • oxymorphone (Opana)
  • hydromorphone (Dilaudid)

Synthetic or Man Made:

  • Methadone
  • Fentanyl (Duragesic)
  • Tramadol (Ultram)

How Do Opiates Work?

Opiates bind to opioid receptors in the brain and other parts of the nervous system and then they change the way that the brain feels pain. Large amounts of a 'transmitter' known as dopamine are released causing a feeling of pleasure. This is how the euphoric high or pleasure feeling comes about when a patient or user ingests one of these many drugs. Over time the body may decrease amounts of dopamine and the user needs to take more. Eventually the patient develops a tolerance and needs higher doses, seeks stronger opiates or even other drugs to achieve the same pleasure as before.

How Are Opiates Abused Or Misused?

Opiate or opioid painkillers are prescribed to millions of people every year for legitimate medical usage. In the course of treatment, patients develop physical tolerance. Many patients attempt to withdraw from opiates but find themselves unable to. Opiates are classed based on their potential for physical and psychological dependence. So, it depends on the medication, dosage and length of time taken that affects how one becomes addicted. There are other factors, such as genetic factors where some patients have a higher tendency to become addicted more than others.

Tolerance and dependence is not the same as addiction. The person becomes dependent and tolerance develops when they can't live without the drug or develop withdrawal symptoms, but addiction is when compulsive uncontrollable drug-seeking behavior develops. Now the patient's life becomes controlled by an opiate substance and everything that they do is controlled by seeking more medication.

In What Forms Are Opiates Available?

Prescription opiates are available in every dosage form including tablets, capsules, liquids, and injections. However many patients chew or crush certain tablets to get a quick rush of euphoria. This can be dangerous and lead to overdose. This has led to the manufacture of extended-release dosage forms that can't be chewed or crushed without destroying the drug delivery mechanism. Often, tablets and liquids are injected and even snorted. Heroin is normally injected and leads to many health problems.

What Are The Effects Of Opiates On The Body?

Opiates not only affect pain and cough centers in the brain and nervous systems but they exhibit a whole host of side effects affecting every area of the body. Some of the more common ones are listed here:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Shallow or lower breathing
  • Constipation
  • Stomach and intestinal cramps
  • Muscle twitching
  • Slowed motor movement
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Decreased immune response

Effects Of Injecting Opiates Like Heroin

  • Collapsed veins
  • Hepatitis from shared needles
  • Risk of HIV from shared needles
  • Lung problems

Who Is Prone To Opiate Addiction?

There are three basic groups who abuse and misuse opiates: children and teenagers, young adults, and older adults who are often taking 4 or more other medications. These extra medications pose an increased risk to the patients health as the risk of drug interactions and other side effects increases. The majority of opiate abuse in the United States comes from prescription drug misuse.

Approximately 25 percent of patients prescribed opiates for pain misuse them. There are those who abuse antitussive cough suppressants but the vast majority are misusing prescription painkillers. Roughly 5 percent who misuse prescription opiates will transition to heroin.

Millions of prescriptions for opiates are written every year and that means a potential risk for abuse and misuse for each one of them. Teenagers and adolescents have become a major at risk population group. They often are introduced to opiates by a friend or family member. Sometimes they find medication at home and that opens the door. 94 percent of heroin abusers reported that hey started with prescription opiates.

Another source of illegal opiates is through the internet, since it is not regulated. Many obtain a supply e for themselves and resort to selling them. Regardless of whether it is from legitimate medical use or non-prescribed use, drug seeking behavior develops as the patient needs more and more of the opiate to keep them satisfied.

Signs And Behavior To Watch For In Opiate Addicts

  • Increase of drug to get the same effect
  • Social isolation
  • Neglect work or school.
  • Spend an unusual time seeking more opiate drugs
  • Financial problems
  • Poor decision making
  • Mood swings from euphoric highs to depressive lows
  • loss of appetite or poor eating habits
  • Faking or forging prescriptions to get more medication
  • Many doctors and pharmacies- shopping around
  • reckless behavior, driving while 'high'

Physical Signs And Symptoms Of Opiate Abuse

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Problems concentrating or focusing
  • Slowed Breathing
  • Euphoria

Withdrawal Symptoms

Many patients experience withdrawal symptoms whether intentionally in an effort to stop taking the drug or as a result of not being able to find the opiate drug.

  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Cold flashes with goosebumps
  • Sleep problems
  • Dizziness
  • Uncontrollable cravings
  • Headache

Opiate Overdose Statistics

Death from opiate overdose has become a major crisis in America. While the number of opiate overdoses decreased from 2017 to 2018, it continues to be a major crisis. Seventy percent of all overdose deaths in the United States is due to an opioid pain reliever. While the actual number of deaths due to opioids is less than a hundred thousand, there are many more near-death overdoses due to opioids.

Overdose Prevention

The DEA, along with other agencies has added new methods of monitoring prescription and illicit drug abuse and misuse. Most states now have some form of prescription drug monitoring in place to monitor the prescribing habits of physicians and the prescription filling habits of patients. Doctors and Pharmacists are required to check patient usage to see how, when, and where a prescription was filled, how often they receive an opiate, and if they are 'doctor shopping'. These efforts have helped decrease the number of non-medical prescriptions written and filled. However, patients continue to find other means to get the opiates that they seek.

Drugs like naltrexone are available with First Responders in order to reverse an overdose and are saving lives. Other forms of intervention are: reporting any unusual behavior or effects to the physician, parents keeping their medications stored away from children, and monitoring teenage behavior for signs of drug-seeking behavior. By preventing opioid abuse and misuse, overdose can be prevented and lives saved.

Signs And Symptoms Of Opiate Overdose

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Shallow or restricted breathing
  • Difficulty or inability to wake up
  • Extreme nausea/vomiting
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Clammy hands
  • Bluish-colored nails and lips

For many patients, it was the overdose and near death, that was the defining moment where they sought help and turned things around. Surviving an opiate overdose does not guarantee that next time the results will be the same. It should never get to that point.

Treatment And Rehab

Treatment for opiate addiction begins with drug withdrawal and detox. The period of withdrawal and detox will vary from person to person and depends on dosage, length of abuse, other medications are taken, and overall health. Occasionally patients will try to come off of an opiate on their own or they decide to discontinue taking them so that they won't become addicted. Usually, they experience terrible withdrawal symptoms as listed above, and are unable to withdraw without professional help.

Medication-Assisted Therapy

Patients who abuse or misuse opiates often require medication, like buprenorphine or methadone to help them during the time of opiate withdrawal. These medications work by binding to the same opioid receptors but at a different level. They do not have as powerful of a euphoric or pleasure effect as the opiate that is being withdrawn. Buprenorphine has a long half-life, or the time it takes to reduce medication in the body to one-half of the original level. Buprenorphine has a long half-life of 30 to 40 hours, which means it can stay in the body for days. A patient does not have to take a dose as often.

MAT also helps patients deal with cravings which can be really bad, and explains why patients develop drug-seeking behavior. The length that a patient takes buprenorphine or methadone varies from patient to patient. The doctors that prescribe MAT meds. have specialized training to prescribe them. Buprenorphine has helped avoid the daily visits to the methadone clinic and allows patients to live a normal life.

In addition to these two drugs is the opiate antagonist, naltrexone, which actually blocks opioid receptors. It is given after a patient has undergone withdrawal or in conjunction with buprenorphine at a late stage of withdrawal.

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Other Treatment Modalities

At Transformations Treatment Center we have many options for opiate addiction treatment in addition to Medication. Counseling and behavioral therapy, along with faith-based treatment are begun later into the withdrawal and detox phase. We have a holistic approach and do not just treat one aspect of the patient's addiction, but, we deal with the mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, and sociological aspects of a patient's life and their addiction. We offer inpatient and outpatient services.


At Transformations Treatment Center we have a long history of success and many stories to back it up. However, the key to recovery is the patient and their desire to be substance-free and remain that way. Our goal is not just for you to get help, and be drug-free, but also to stay clean and live a sober life. That is why it is important for you to follow the treatment recommendations and guidelines, and continue any programs, medications, or counseling recommended after inpatient treatment ceases.

Get Help Now At Transformations Treatment Center

You will never know what we can do for you until you contact us. We are here 24/7 and are eager to assist you in any way that we can. Don't delay in getting the right help for your opiate problem.

Contact us

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