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What are Opioids

19 November, 2018Articles, News

What are Opioids? They are synthetic drugs designed to reproduce the effects of natural opioids such as Opium, which is a dried latex obtained from Poppies. Opium is 12% analgesic alkaloid morphine, which is processed chemically to produce heroin. Opiates can be prescribed by a doctor or obtained at a pharmacy to treat moderate to severe, acute and chronic pain, that could be the result of illness, injury or surgery. Some of the most common legally prescribed opiates are Codeine, Fentanyl, Hydrocodone and Morphine.


Opiates contribute to pain relief by attaching themselves to corresponding receptors in the brains of animals and humans. Once bonded, the cells transmit signals that increase feeling of well-being and block the pain response. Opiates alter or decrease ones perception of pain, they do not actually numb pain or stop pain from occurring.


Like with many other drugs, prescription or illegal, opiates have side effects. These may include, but are not limited to: drowsiness and sedation, dizziness, blurred vision, low blood pressure, altered heart rate and breathing, fatigue, changes in appetite and skin rashes. The side effects can be fatal or cause permanent damage if not treated in time by a medical professional.

Long term use may increase a person’s sensitivity to pain or certain stimuli. This is known as Opioids-Induced Hyperalgesia.


All drugs that fall within the opiate class have a high potential for misuse, physical dependency and overdose. Their psychoactive properties impact several neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine receptors. These are responsible for producing euphoria, happiness, joy and feelings of reward. These feeling are part of what makes the misuse and abuse of opiates so tempting.

Opiates if used in conjunction with other drugs such as Alcohol, Benzodiazepines and other central nervous system depressants increase the symptoms associated with use and abuse, in addition all other side effects of these substances are enhanced. This significantly raises the risk of overdose and death.


Sustained opiate use will most likely cause physical dependency. This means that when use of the drug suddenly stops or decreased a person may experience withdrawal symptoms. These include, but are not limited to: irritability and mood swings, anxiety and depression, shaking or convulsions, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, muscle aches and pains, rapid breathing, insomnia, general restlessness and trouble sleeping.

Due to the severity of symptoms present with opiate withdrawal, medically administered detox medication may be necessary. Legally, this needs to be prescribed by a medical doctor and should be monitored and administered by qualified health professional, such as a nurse. It is incredibly important that a person is completely honest in this part of the process. Lying about how much and what you have been using can lead to a person being under or over medicated. Both can have serious health consequences.  This process lessens cravings and alleviates the symptoms of withdrawals. It is usually the first step in any rehabilitation program and rehabilitation centers who do not offer this should be subject to intense scrutiny.


A medical detox is just the first step in any recovery process. Long term sobriety is the result of much more than just getting over the withdrawal symptoms. Recovery is an ongoing process that involves much more than just the outward symptoms of addiction. Healing of the spirit and mind is just as important has healing of the body.


D C Sitole

Charlie van de Erve

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