Opiates are legal or illegal drugs made from opium, a highly addictive, natural narcotic extracted from the papaver somniferum (poppy) plant. Opium is the primary ingredient in heroin, codeine, morphine, fentanyl, and other powerful pain relievers. Taking multiple opiates simultaneously to get high is one of the leading causes of drug overdose deaths in the U.S.
The CDC reports over 93,000 drug overdose deaths in 2020, an increase of nearly 30 percent from 2019. Synthetic opiates such as fentanyl and methadone were responsible for 68 percent of all drug overdose deaths. In fact, seven out of every 10 drug overdose deaths is attributed to one or more opioids. Although taking just one opiate poses the risk of addiction and abuse, the dangers of mixing opiates—overdose, coma, death—are not only significant but probable.
Your Brain on Opiates: The Chemistry of Addiction
Over half of all opiate users get addicted to street opioids when they are prescribed Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, or other painkillers for relief of moderate to severe pain. In addition to alleviating pain, opiates also make you feel euphoric, pleasantly drowsy, and blissful. People high on opioids describe the feeling as “the best feeling in the world,” because for several hours all worries, anxieties, and pain seem to vanish. Unfortunately, once the effects of an opiate wear off, users return to the cold, harsh reality of their lives. And their brain doesn’t like that.
What happens inside your brain when mixing opiates? How does an opiate dependency happen so quickly? While the scientific explanation of opiate pharmacology is complex, the basic breakdown of why opiates are highly addictive and dangerous involves receptors in the brain that are designed to “accept” opiate chemicals.
The central nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and afferent nerves that regulate your sense of smell, sound, vision, and touch) is rich in opioid receptors. When activated by certain natural or synthetic chemicals, opioid receptors induce pain relief (analgesia), decrease feelings of physical and emotional stress, and stimulate the ventral tegmental area (reward center) of the brain. When the brain is “rewarded” with opiates, it releases a hormone called dopamine into the reward center that intensifies euphoric, pleasurable sensations.
Opiate tolerance builds quickly when this drug is taken every day for an extended period of time. Most states have a seven-day limit on opioid prescriptions. In Florida, the current limit is three days, with prescriptions limited to only individuals with acute pain. However, some exceptions exist for physicians to write seven-day prescriptions for opioids, such as patients with an incurable disease or poor prognosis.
5 Most Commonly Abused Opiates
Hydrocodone is usually combined with acetaminophen in pill form to relieve severe pain. Zohydro ER is the long-acting form of hydrocodone prescribed to treat only severe, chronic pain. Immediate-release hydrocodone with acetaminophen is found in brand-name opiates like Vicodin, Lorcet, Norco, and Lortab.
Codeine is converted into morphine by special enzymes in the body to provide powerful anti-tussive and analgesic effects. Tylenol with Codeine #3 is a commonly prescribed codeine/acetaminophen drug that relieves cough, systemic pain, and musculoskeletal pain.
A synthetic opioid associated with helping people overcome a heroin addiction, methadone is also prescribed for pain under the names Methadose and Dolophine. Although methadone is effective for detoxifying heroin users, it is a highly addictive opiate that causes side effects similar to other opiates.
Heroin addicts trying to get off heroin by using methadone have been known to combine these two opiates when their craving for heroin is overwhelming. When they discover that mixing methadone and heroin doesn’t give them the euphoria they crave, they take more heroin until they start suffering symptoms of overdose.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), fentanyl is a laboratory-made opioid nearly 80 times stronger than morphine. Originally synthesized to treat severe cancer pain, fentanyl is now commonly added to street heroin to increase potency. Many fentanyl overdoses are attributed to addicts buying what they think is pure heroin. Instead, drug dealers have sold them pure fentanyl, which can cause immediate respiratory and heart failure demanding emergency treatment with Narcan.
Unlike hydrocodone, codeine, methadone, and fentanyl, heroin is not a prescription medication and is currently listed as a Schedule I drug by the DEA. Schedule I drugs are drugs with no “accepted medical use” and have a “high potential for abuse.” In addition to heroin, LSD, marijuana, peyote, and ecstasy are designated as Schedule I drugs.
Dangers of Combining Opiates
Whether you mix hydrocodone with heroin, methadone with fentanyl, or use any other combination of opiates, the narcotic effect on your respiratory, cardiovascular, and central nervous system doubles. Overloading your brain and body by taking multiple opiates at one time will cause the following:
- Extreme drowsiness/sedation
- Lack of muscle control/absence of hand and eye coordination
- Unconsciousness/inability to stay awake
- Vomiting while unconscious
- Heart arrhythmia
- Dangerously slowed breathing
- Low blood pressure/shock/organ failure
- Permanent brain damage
People who regularly combine opiates but somehow escape overdosing can develop life-threatening withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop using even for a short time. In fact, trying to go cold turkey from mixing opiates involves the same health risks as abusing two opiates.
Is Valium an Opiate?
Valium (diazepam) is an anxiety-reducing prescription drug that belongs to the family of benzodiazepines. None of Valium’s ingredients come from the poppy plant so it is not an opiate.
Valium causes drowsiness and mild euphoria but won’t relieve pain. Physicians prescribe Valium to treat anxiety disorders, insomnia, seizures, and muscle spasms. Valium is also used to relieve alcohol withdrawal syndrome, a constellation of physical and mental health problems affecting people in alcohol recovery.
Like opiates, valium is highly addictive. Long-term use of Valium often results in the development of tolerance for the drug, followed by dependence and full-blown addiction. Instead of targeting opioid receptors, Valium promotes the release of a neurotransmitter called GABA, which regulates signaling within the central nervous system (CNS). By interfering with normal GABA release, Valium slows down nerve activity in the CNS and makes people feeler calmer and less anxious.
Just because Valium is not an opiate doesn’t make it “safer” to take with another opiate. When you mix Valium with opiates, you are also in danger of overdosing.
Call FHE Today for Help with an Opiate Addiction
If you find yourself in situations where you are mixing opiates, it may be time to seek help. Contact FHE today.