Untangling Opioids and Opiates During the Opioid Epidemic

According to the World Health Organization “Roughly 450,000 people died as a result of drug use in 2015. Of those deaths, about 160 thousands were directly associated with drug use disorders and about 118 thousands with opioid use disorders.” The news is constantly throwing out headlines about this opioid epidemic, a crisis in not only the state of Florida, but it is a crisis that spans throughout the United States of America and as this World Health Organization shows, it’s a crisis throughout the whole world. 118 thousand people dying due to opioid related matters in 160 thousand is a jaw dropping 74% of the people who died due to a drug related incidents in 2016 who succumbed to death because of opioids. In Florida everyday we hear about the opioid epidemic or crisis in Florida, in the wider United States, but it’s a crisis that spans the world over. The best and first defense against such a sweeping crisis is education. (https://www.who.int/substance_abuse/information-sheet/en/)

The Difference Between Opioids and Opiates

Opiates or opioids have made their way into pop culture via characters on television or movies, or through the actors who play those characters.  Musicians, Actors, and other celebrities suffer in great number with addiction, probably due to the immense pressure they experience in the public eye. The iconic musician, Prince, died of an overdose of a cocktail of drugs, but it is likely heavily due to the opioid content in his bloodstream that he overdosed and died. Michael Jackson is also suspected to have been prescribed the analgesic Fentanyl and as a result of his Fentanyl patch he overdosed and died.


In spite of the prevalence of opioids in our society and the frequency and speed at which they are killing people, the general public is woefully uneducated on the subject. The following will break down the difference between an opiate and an opioid, talk about how the drugs affect the body, as well as side effects of the drug and withdrawal side effects.


What are Opiates

“Opiates” are a narcotic analgesic drug found in nature. The opium poppy plant produces a pure form of the drug. That natural substance is turned into the following drugs


Some common forms of opiates include:

  • Opium
  • Heroin
  • Codeine
  • Thebaine
  • Morphine


What are Opioids: “Opioids” is a term that covers both opiates and opioids. Opiates as stated above are the natural form of the drug but the label “opioid” includes both opiates and opioids, the latter of which being a synthetic version of the drug that mimics the effects of opiates on the body.


Some common forms of opioids include:

  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone, OxyContin, Percocet, or Percodan
  • Hydromorphone, or Dialudid
  • Duragesic, or fentanyl


The Effect Opioids Have on The Body

It doesn’t matter if it is an opiate or a synthetic opioid, both forms of the drug bind to the opioid receptors in the brain. The opioid receptors include the limbic system, the brainstem, the spinal cord. These centers are where the drug goes to effect the pain center, the pleasure center and the addiction center all in one go.


How the drug affects the opioid user’s brain and nervous systems:


The Spinal Cord – The spinal cord is another place that opioids cause a person taking the drug to have a reduction of pain in their bodies while intoxicated by the drug. The spinal cord takes in sensations, messages, from other parts of the body. It’s the filter through which information gets to the brain, from the other portions and parts of the body. If opiates block the message of pain in the body it’s easy to tell why someone would get addicted. With the number of people these days suffering from depression, anxiety, terrible diseases or chronic illnesses that may


The Brainstem – A human’s brain stem is the portion of your body that is in control of the automatic systems within your body . The vital functions of your physical self that you have no actionable control over such as control over breathing or control over your heart beat. When opioids affect the brain stem it causes a slow down of the user’s respiratory and cardiac systems. The result of the brainstem  being affected by the drug is one of the ways the drug helps reduce chronic and acute pain in the user’s body.


The Limbic System – A person’s limbic system is one of the places in your brain where you filter incoming information to understand the world around you. This is the place in your body that makes your face expressive. Even dogs have limbic systems! That’ why sometimes it seems like a dog is smiling. They actually are. The limbic system is evolutionarily sound because it is what we use to understand other people’s cues, danger, intention. We use our limbic system to read body language, for instance. The limbic system is the filter through which we are looking at the world and the world is looking at us. Opioids use the Limbic System to effect relaxation, pleasure, contentment even.


Here is a list of just some of the symptoms opioid use can cause on the body:

  • Dehydration
  • Constipation
  • Upset Stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Sedation
  • Dizziness
  • Growing tolerance
  • Higher likelihood of infectious disease
  • Chemical dependence
  • Respiratory depression
  • Overdose
  • Death


Here is a list of just some of the withdrawal symptoms opioid use can cause on the body:

  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Muscle pain
  • Bone pain
  • Insomnia
  • Flu like symptoms
  • Stomach aches
  • Difficulty regulating body temperature


The most tragic of side effects of the opioid drug is that it is rapid in speed when it come so to building up tolerance in the person struggling with opioid addiction. Over and over again the opioid user’s body requires more of the drug to reach the kind of contentment they have come to expect with their particular kind of opioid.


Thousands of people get introduced to opioids because of a medical prescription they got from a reputable doctor. It doesn’t take long before the drug no longer does what it was promised because a person’s tolerance and chemical dependence on the drug has begun to grow. This is when trouble hits for the person using the drug. If someone is predisposed to addiction it could knock them over the ledge and into another more potent form of the drug.. They may begin using heroin instead, or morphine, to reach the same kind of levels of calm and happiness they remember experiencing in the beginning. More and more users are reaching for Fentanyl and as mentioned earlier in this article, Prince, Michael Jackson, and others have lost their lives squarely in the public light. This kind of world wide publicity has made governments both small and large, local and federal take a look at their policies, programs and budget for such things as drug addiction.


Fentanyl is an especially deadly form of the drug and while it seems to be popping up all over the place, responsible for accidental death, it was recently in the news for a legal death. Recently Fentanyl was used by the Nebraska government to carry out the death sentence. It was the state’s first execution in over twenty years. In 2015 Nebraska voted to eliminate the death penalty but then a year later the regulation was removed.


Many people use Fentanyl by lacing other drugs with it. It’s common to lace Fentanyl and heroin for example. The danger isn’t only for someone intentionally using the drug. Recently the United States Department of Justice felt it necessary to release a video addressed to first responders about how to deal with fentanyl they may find or happen upon in the line of duty. (https://news.vice.com/en_us/article/ywk8kx/watch-the-dojs-dramatic-video-telling-cops-they-wont-die-from-touching-fentanyl) the video dispells the notion that an opioid will hurt a person just because they touched it. But it does underscore the fact that if the drug is breathed in or consumed in some way that the drug can make a person quite ill.


The Tragic Effects of Opioids on More Than Just One Nation

In the united states in 2016 about 60,000 people died because of a drug related problem. 25000 of those people lost their lives because of opioids, that’s 40% of the people who died from drug overdoses or complications in the United States in 2016 who suffered from an opioid addiction or who overdosed on on one of their first times using. Either Way those statistics are staggering. It’s also pertinent and important to note that though it seems like the United States is beating the rest of the world in the fight against opioids because our percentage of deaths due to drugs is high in favor of other drugs compared to opioids, the United States of America is responsible for almost 22 percent of the world’s opioid deaths and represents little more than 4 percent of the world’s population. The same year, in 2016, Florida saw its death toll jump almost 35 percent.


Treatment For Someone Suffering from Opioid Substance Use Disorder

With opioids becoming more of a death risk than any government, culture, or religion was prepared for, the hope is that there is treatment for someone afflicted with the quick and powerful chemical dependency opioids foster within someone. Recovering from an addiction to any kind of opioid will require medical  and professional supervision. FHE Health offers a staff of fully qualified medical clinicians and therapists to support you through opioid or opiate detox, FHE Health also offers opiate rehab and outpatient aftercare services.

Some of the kinds of ways opioid addiction is treated:

Drug replacement therapy – this is a method in which another, less addictive and less potent drug is used to reduce cravings and triggers in patients so to help them get clean, allowing them the space from their substance abuse to go through the therapeutic work needed for rehabilitation.

Naltrexone Implant – Naltrexone is an implant for drug addiction recovery. The subdermal implant releases a drug that binds to the same receptor an opioid drug would bind to in the brain and blocks the effects of opioids all together, thereby reducing cravings. The implant also does not take away the effects of withdrawal from removing the drug from your body’s use. And though opioid withdrawal is not usually fatal, the side effects can be brutal.

Anyone suffering from an addiction to opioids should contact FHE Health for more information on treatment options.  

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