What Are Opioids

What Are Opioids?

In the news, you may have noticed the reports of an increase in the misuse of opioid prescription pain relievers and deaths that have been caused by opioid overdoses. These drugs can become addictive for many that use them. The consequences can even be fatal.

Opioid causes the slowing down of breath of an individual. When there is an overdose of opioids, it might slow down the breathing of a person to an extent that he stops breathing completely. In the USA, there have been 20,000 deaths annually due to opioid overdose and approximately 75 teenagers have succumbed to this. In 2020, the UK government legislated to produce stronger warnings about the risk of dependence and addiction on patient information leaflets.

Read on to know more about what opioids are and how opioid misuse can prove to be dangerous.

Your Brain and Opioids

There are different drugs classified as opioids. While some of them are prescription medications that are used to alleviate pain, there are some drugs such as heroin that are also classified as opioids.

Opioid drugs stick to the opioid receptors of the brain and all over the body. These cells are responsible for regulating digestion, vital functions and pain. Certain opioid chemicals such as endorphins are present in the body. These are responsible for pain relief and are is also known to induce a good feeling during exercise. When opioid drugs attach to these receptors, they suppress the pain perception of an individual even more. This makes them useful for people who are recovering from pain or recovering from surgery.

Opioids are also known to affect the pleasure system of the brain leading to a feeling of euphoria. Some people use opioid medications just to get that high. If an individual is consuming a prescription medicine to get high, it is a misuse and can lead to various health problems.

Opioid medications should only be taken when prescribed by a doctor for the specified duration. This will help avoid the risk of addiction.

What Is the Difference Between Opioids and Heroin?

Although heroin is classified as an opioid, there is a reason why it is not prescribed. People who snort or inject it will have it in their brain directly and it results in a momentary high. This results in minimal pain relief but certainly leads to addiction.

Most prescription opioids are specifically designed to affect you more gradually. This means that the effects are less extreme than heroin but last over a longer period of time.

The drugs, however, can still be abused by those who are looking to get high. Abusers crush the opioid pills and either snort the powder or inject it to get an immediate and more perceived effect. This can have dangerous effects on the human body and might lead to addiction or overdose.

Often, people who are looking to misuse prescription medicines switch to heroin as it is a cheaper alternative and is available easily.

Ways to Treat Opioid Addiction

There are medications developed by researchers that help in treating people with opioid addiction. Drugs such as methadone and buprenorphine are known to activate the opioid receptors so that an addicted person does not have any withdrawal or cravings, while they still get high. This way, the relapse is avoided as the brain starts healing gradually. Naltrexone is known to block the opioid receptors and relieves the patients of the usual effects it has.

In May 2021, police in Wales started to carry naloxone medication in the form of a spray, to be used by law enforcers to help them save the lives of drug addicts that had overdosed on opioids.

Along with the medicines, support and counselling help addicts recover from their addiction. Naloxone is another medication that prevents opioids from affecting the opioid receptors and in case a person has overdosed on opioids, this drug is used for emergencies as it can be delivered nasally and the effects are immediate.

Picture Credit: “naloxone” (CC BY 2.0) by peabodyproductions