What Are Prescription Opioids?

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Opioids are a class of drugs that are naturally found in the opium poppy plant. Some prescription opioids are made directly from the plant, while most are made by scientists in labs. These prescriptions are used primarily to treat moderate to severe pain as they can relax the body, however, there are some that treat diarrhea and severe coughing. This article will discuss these prescription opioids, how they affect the brain, and how they can lead to addiction for so many.

Opioids and the Brain

When someone takes an opioid, they may feel a variety of affects, including drowsiness, relaxation, and slow breathing. Many people also report experiencing a rush of pleasure and euphoria that most find incredibly rewarding in the short term. Opioids attach to what are called opioid receptors in various parts of the brain which leads to pain relief and feelings of pleasure. Dopamine, a pleasure chemical in the brain, is released in increasing levels when the reward circuits in the brain are stimulated by the opioids. It is this releasing of dopamine which produces the euphoric feeling of pleasure that is the focus of so many repeat opiate users. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that helps reinforce pleasure/reward activities such as intimacy in relationships, exercise, or the sudden availability of your favorite food. One can see how when dopamine is released due to an opioid, the brain will continue to desire this intense pleasure producing event which leads to opiate addiction.

When taken as prescribed by a physician, opioids can safely and significantly reduce intense pain associated with surgery or other causes. However, when opioids activate these same reward processes in the absence of significant pain, they can motivate repeated use of the drug simply for the pleasure reward. Anyone who is taking, or knows someone taking, any of the following common opioids should be very careful to ONLY take these as prescribed.

What are some Common Opioid Prescription Medicines

The following is a list of the commercial names for some common prescription opioids. A more exhaustive list, complete with ingestion modes and street names can be found here:

  • Codeine (Various brand names)
  • Fentanyl (Actiq®Duragesic®, Sublimaze®)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin®, Norco®, Zohydro®, and others)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid®)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percodan®, Percocet®, and others)
  • Oxymorphone (Opana®)
  • Meperidine (Demerol®)
  • Methadone (Dolophine®, Methadose®)
  • Morphine (Duramorph®, MS Contin®)

It is key to always check the labels on any prescriptions you take so you know what you are taking and the dangers associated with their use.

I know what you are thinking…all this “head knowledge” is great, but let’s get some practicality here. How do you know if you or a loved in is abusing an opiate? First, let’s be clear here. Opiate addiction is, and has been, the a problem in the US for quite sometime. In fact, more than 750,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose. And two out of three drug overdose deaths in 2018 involved an opioid. These are troubling numbers indeed. The key to battling these numbers is early intervention and education.

Opioid overdose infographic

Signs a Loved One is Abusing an Opiate

As we have seen, 66% of all drug overdose deaths in 2018 were due to opiates. In addition to these undeniable facts regarding the danger of opiate overdose deaths, chronic opioid misuse can lead one toward a compulsive cycle of physical dependence, withdrawal, and other opioid addiction health effects. Some common symptoms of opiate dependence include:

  • Taking more than prescribed
  • Mood Swings
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Lack of Motivation
  • Decline in personal hygiene
  • Tolerance and taking more medication to feel its effects
  • Drug dependence and withdrawal symptoms that are physically similar to the flu and that emotionally include depression, anxiety, insomnia, irritability, and drug cravings
  • Trying to get prescription filled when not needed or early
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Presence of drug paraphernalia
  • Unexplained medication bottles or pills

  • “Doctor Shopping” or going to multiple doctors for additional prescriptions
  • Altering medications (e.g. chewing or crushing)
  • Asking others for their medications
  • Increased pain sensitivity
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Drop in work or school attendance
  • Inattention to normal obligations
  • Financial problems
  • Erratic sleep patterns
  • Slurred speech, uncoordinated movements, euphoria, sedation, shallow breathing, face flushing, pinpoint pupils, droopy eyes, itching of the arms, calmness, and dry mouth, which can all indicate opioid intoxication

If you notice any of the above symptoms when taking prescription opiates, you or your loved one, may have signs of opiate dependence. Opiate drug abuse and addiction are treatable with detox services, behavioral therapies, counseling services, and supportive care. There are many different forms of treatment available. The key is to reach out for help. San Diego Sober Living has experienced drug and alcohol counselors on staff to help you and your family navigate these difficult times.

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