Understanding Opiates

The opium poppy plant with its ability to relieve pain is where the drug classification of opiates comes from. It includes both numerous prescription painkillers and heroin. What are opiates? They are often referred to by the substances created naturally from the opium plant which includes both codeine and morphine. The term opioid is regularly used in place of the term opiate to include semi-synthetic and synthetic prescription drugs.

Drugs classified as Opiates act on the brain’s opioid receptors to increase pleasure by blocking filling the receptors and blocking pain. The presence of opiates changes the way that neurotransmitters in the brain work. One of the neurotransmitters affected is dopamine which increases pleasure and has an effect on the ability to control impulses and regulates mood. There are mind altering effects associated with opiates in addition to the ability to decrease mild or severe pain. Opiates are highly addictive and when used outside of can give a high. Even when supervised by a physician they can lead to drug addiction.

Opiates are considered narcotic sedatives which reduce pain, induce sleep and depress the central nervous system. Constipation, nausea and over sedation are all side effects of opiate drugs.

What are Opiates Concerns?

Opiates are addictive because a tolerance can be built up to them causing the effectiveness to decrease. Anything outside of the method prescribed to use a drug is considered abuse. Opiates are widely misused. They are taken in higher doses than prescribed, snorted, injected or smoked to get the high faster. The central nervous system is depressed which decreases heart rate, respiration and blood pressure; in addition the capability to make decisions is impacted negatively.

People may become more social when taking opiates and do things they would never normally do. Pain sensations decrease causing them to take more risks. Constipation, vomiting and nausea are side effects. Pregnant woman can suffer from miscarriages as a result of taking opiates. Odds of catching an infectious or sexually transmitted disease also increase due to the potential for engaging in risky sexual practices. The decrease in judgment can lead to uncharacteristic behaviors.

Types of Opiate Drugs Used for Pain Relief




Hydrocodone with acetaminophen





Oxycodone and naloxone

Oxycodone and acetaminophen


While most opiates are taken orally, fentanyl is a patch which allows the medication to be absorbed through the skin.

What are the affects of Opiate abuse?

Anxiety and depression increase

Injecting can lead to veins collapsing

Infections of the lining and valves of the heart

Arthritis and other rheumatologic issues

Infections or skin rashes from scratching or picking at the skin

Women suffer from irregular menstrual cycles

Symptoms of existing medical and/or mental health conditions can worsen

Men can experience sexual dysfunction

Liver and kidney disease

Infections and abscesses of the soft tissue

Contracting hepatitis B or C and/or HIV or AIDS

Overdosing on Opiates

Toxicity associated with the misuse or overuse of opioid drugs is considered an overdose. Unconsciousness, small pupils and insufficient breathing are all signs of overdosing on opiates. The method used to take the opiods determines the symptom onset. Complications for those who survive an overdose of opiates include becoming permanently brain damaged, compartment syndrome, rhadbomyolsis and pulmonary edema. Factors that put someone at risk of an overdose include the injection of opiods, mental disorders, high opiate doses, dependence on opiods and combing them with either benzodiazepines or alcohol. After detoxification the risk increases, and the use of opiates to treat chronic pain can lead to becoming dependent on them.

The first treatments include giving oxygen and supporting breathing. It is equally effective to give an injection of naloxone into the muscle or through the nose. Risk of a poor outcome in those who refuse a hospital visit after reversal is low. Treating opiod dependence and increasing naloxone access are part of the efforts for preventing deaths from opiate overdoses. Respiratory depression can result from the effect on the brain’s control over the regulation of breathing leading to death. Muscle spasms and seizures are also symptoms of overdosing on opiates. Someone can be left without the ability to walk due to the spinal cord being detrimentally damaged. The risk of respiratory depression increases with alcohol because it is also a cause which makes death an increased risk.

When opiates are prescribed a doctor needs to monitor the dosage and response to the dosage. The potential side effects and whether or not the drugs are being taken correctly should also be monitored by a physician.