Understanding Opioids and Opioid Addiction

Opioids interact with the brain’s pleasure receptors.  It’s important to understand the different types and how opioid addiction can be overcome.

Opioids refer to natural (opiates) or synthetic chemicals that interact with certain receptors in the brain.  Opioids reduce the intensity of pain signals and minimize feelings of pain.  Common opioids include heroin and morphine, which are also opiates, and synthetic drugs such as fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, methadone, and many others.  Opioid pain medications are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor.  However, because they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief, they are highly addictive and may be misused.

Heroin is known as a “downer” that workss on the brain’s opioid receptors.  It is processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of certain varieties of poppy plants. Because it enters the brain so rapidly, heroin is particularly addictive, both psychologically and physically. Withdrawal from heroin can be managed through medications like buprenorphine, and recovery from heroin addiction is possible through individual counseling, group therapy, peer support, and medication assisted treatment.

Fentanyl is a synthetic narcotic analgesic produced from morphine.  It is generally prescribed to patients temporarily as a reliever for severe pain or following surgery. It works quickly to eliminate any pain in the body. Fentanyl is widely considered more addictive than heroin because of its potency. This synthetic substance is over100 times more potent than morphine. Withdrawal from fentanyl has physiological and psychological effects, but it can be managed through medications like buprenorphine. Recovery from fentanyl addiction is best managed through holistic treatment including medication, just as with other opioids.

Carfentanil: is an extremely potent derivative of fentanyl and is not approved for use in humans in any way. It is generally used as a sedative for large animals, primarily elephants. Carfentanil is extremely dangerous and is around 10,000 times more potent than morphine. Addiction to carfentanil can be overcome in the same way that addiction to less powerful opioids is managed. A treatment program should include medication assisted treatment, individual counseling, peer support, and group therapy.

Codeine is one of the opioid alkaloids found in the opium poppy. It is a lower potency opiate used primarily as a cough medicine and to treat diarrhea. It can also treat mild to moderate levels of pain.

Hydrocodone is a mild, semi-synthetic opiate which is synthesized from codeine. The most popular form of hydrocodone is Vicodin. Hydrocodone is a narcotic analgesic used orally for relief of moderate to severe pain, but since there are over 100 different varieties of hydrocodone in different doses, colors, and shapes, it can sometimes be difficult to identify.

Oxycodone is a mild opiate, made by modifying thebaine, an organic chemical found in opium. Designated as an opioid, or semi-synthetic opiate, oxycodone shares a general classification with heroinmorphine and codeine. This means that although it has a definite medical purpose, there is a high potential for abuse. It comes in different brand names such as: oxycontin, Percocet, Roxicodone.

Morphine Oral/Injectable: Morphine is the classic opiate painkiller, the standard by which other opiates are measured. While other opiates are more often the drug of choice of opiate addicts, morphine in pill or liquid form is still sought to satisfy cravings. Morphine can be taken as a liquid by mouth, as quick-acting tablets, or as slow-release tablets and capsules. It is also available as an injection. Morphine is commonly given by injection in hospitals following surgical operations. Oral preparations of morphine come with various different brand names, and not all brands are absorbed by your body in the same way. Once you have started taking one brand, you should continue to take the same brand unless your doctor tells you to switch to another. Even when used as directed, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) publishes warnings that morphine can be habit-forming and cause physical dependence.

Methadone has been used for decades to treat people with addiction to opioids or narcotic pain medication. When taken as prescribed, it can be an effective form of medication assisted treatment (MAT). Methadone works by changing how the brain and nervous system respond to pain. It lessens the painful symptoms of opiate withdrawal and minimizes the euphoric effects of opiate drugs such as heroin, morphine, and codeine, as well as semi-synthetic opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone. Patients can transition from methadone to a longer dose medication like buprenorphine or naltrexone.  The transition should only occur under qualified medical supervision.

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