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Opioid drugs belong to the opiates class of drugs. Opiates are derived from the opium plant, grown in various regions, some of which include Afghanistan, Thailand, Mexico, Northern India, Hungary, Turkey, Laos, Burma and Colombia.

Opioids are synthetic formulations of the original plant material. The majority of opioids come in the form of prescription pain-relief medications. Some of the more commonly known brand name opioid medications include:

Just a few of the street names used for various opioid drugs include:

  • Percs (Percodan, Percocet)
  • Oxy (OxyContin)
  • Juice (Dilaudid)
  • Demmies (Demerol)

How Do Opioids Work?


Many prescription pain medications are opioids, or medicines synthetically derived from the opium poppy.

As pain-relief medications or analgesics, opioids work well to relieve various degrees of pain in relatively short periods of time. They do this by binding to already existing opiate receptors located in the brain, central nervous system and gastrointestinal tract. In effect, the drug replaces the body’s natural pain-relief processes by triggering the release of endorphin chemicals throughout the brain and central nervous system. The release of endorphins slows communications between nerve cells, which works to mute or reduce pain sensations in the body. Ultimately, opioids help to increase a person’s overall tolerance for pain.

How Are Opioids Abused?

While opioids do produce an analgesic effect, they also create feelings of euphoria, calm and well-being for the user. It’s these other effects that drive people to abuse opioids.

Opioid abuse can take many different forms. Prescription pills can be taken as is, while some pill types may be crushed up and snorted. Opioids can also be injected in the veins and under the skin. This entails combining the powdered form with additives, such as baking soda and “cooking” the mixture into a liquid form.

Opioid Effects

The analgesic effects of opioids on opiate receptors in the brain, central nervous system and gastrointestinal tract create a wide range of reactions throughout the body. As analgesics work to slow down normal bodily functions, this primary effect takes place in different ways in different parts of the body.

The most common opioid-induced reactions include:

  • Cough suppression – the drug suppresses a person’s cough reflex center, located in the brain. As a cough suppressant, many cough syrup medicines contain opioids like codeine.
  • Sedation and drowsiness – slowed brain processes bring on feelings of drowsiness, which is why drug labels warn against driving or operating heavy machinery when taking an opioid.
  • Constipation – this results from opioid analgesic effects on the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Low blood-oxygen levels – slowed respiration functions results in low levels of oxygen in the bloodstream
  • Slowed breathing processes – drug effects actually suppress respiratory functions when low blood-oxygen levels are present. This condition also gives way to high carbon dioxide levels in the blood, which can potentially lead to hypoventilation or an inability to catch your breath.
  • Physical dependency – as the body adjusts to opiate effects in the system, the body’s natural endorphin production processes start to shut down. When this happens, chemical processes throughout the body are unable to function normally without opioid effects.

Opioids Side Effects

Effects of Opioid Addiction

Opiate addiction is a chronic condition that develops as the body becomes increasingly dependent on the effects of the drug. As the body becomes more dependent on opioids, a person’s tolerance levels increase accordingly. Increasing tolerance levels drives users to ingest larger and larger doses of drugs in order to experience the same desired effects. Meanwhile, the body becomes more and more dependent on the effects of the drug.

As the body becomes increasingly dependent on opioids, a person will experience withdrawal effects in the form of chills, nausea, depression and hot flashes (to name a few) when needed doses of the drug are unavailable. Withdrawal effects in and of themselves are enough to drive a person to keep using in order to avoid discomfort.

Opioid addiction sets in once users start to believe they need the drug in order to function normally, both physically and mentally. Once addicted, a person engages in compulsive drug-seeking and drug-using behaviors to the point where all other life priorities fall by the wayside. People addicted to opioids place their jobs, their relationships and their finances in jeopardy for the sake of using drugs.

Over time, opioid addiction starts to take a toll on a person’s health. Conditions, such as tooth decay, malnutrition, poor hygiene and skin infections start to develop. Mental or cognitive functions also start to decline as well. At this point, a person may develop any number of psychological disorders, some of which include anxiety, depression, psychosis, delusions and panic attacks.

When to Get Emergency Medical Treatment

The most dangerous risk associated with opiate addiction has to do with the potential for overdose. Overdose results when the body is unable to handle the effects of a particular drug dose. In effect, opioid analgesic effects overwhelm the body’s respiratory system at which point a person stops breathing. When in the throes of an addiction, attempts to achieve the same desired effects drives users to keep increasing their dosage amounts. Under these conditions, the risk of overdose increases with each successive use.

It’s time to get emergency medical treatment when signs of overdose appear. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, some of the symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Blue fingernails
  • Blue lips
  • Dizziness
  • Slowed breathing
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Confused thinking
  • Slurred speech
  • Unsteady gait
  • Clammy skin

Opioid Addiction Treatment Options

Treatment Options

Opioid addiction treatment options are designed to treat most any stage of addiction. Treatment options range from 24-hour inpatient care to prescheduled treatments through outpatient programs.

Regardless of which level of treatment is needed, anyone wanting to break an opioid addiction must first go through the detoxification stage. Because of the damaging effects of opioids on body functions, many recovering addicts require medication treatment to help ease distressing withdrawal symptoms. Detoxification centers offer medication treatments to help a person to make it through the detoxification stage.

For long-term opioid users, ongoing medication therapy is often needed to help reduce residual cravings. Recovering addicts can receive medication treatments on a continual basis through outpatient treatment programs. These treatments greatly increase the likelihood of a successful recovery process.

For help finding an opioid abuse recovery program, call our toll-free helpline at (800) 407-7195(Who Answers?) .

the Take-Away

The group of drugs called opioids is in the opiate family, and also stems from the opium poppy plant. These drugs are made from synthetic opium derivatives and are most commonly pain relievers.