Opiate Addictions

From Prescription Drugs to Heroin, How People Become Addicted to Opiates, Health Dangers and Treatment

Opiates, sometimes referred to as narcotics, are a group of drugs which are used medically to relieve pain, but also have a high potential for abuse. Some opiates come from a resin taken from the seed pod of the Asian poppy. This group of drugs includes opium, morphine, heroin, and codeine. Other opiates, such as meperidine (Demerol), are synthesized or manufactured. Opium appears as dark brown chunks or as a powder and is usually smoked or eaten. Heroin can be a white or brownish powder which is usually dissolved in water and then injected. Most street preparations of heroin are diluted, or "cut," with other substances such as sugar or quinine. Other opiates come in a variety of forms including capsules, tablets, syrups, solutions, and suppositories. Heroin ("junk," "smack") accounts for 90 percent of the opiate abuse in the United States. Sometimes opiates with legal medicinal uses also are abused. They include morphine, meperidine, paregoric (which contains opium), and cough syrups that contain codeine [or a synthetic narcotic, such as dextromethorphan].

Opiate addiction is recognized as a central nervous system disorder, caused by continuous opiate intake. After prolonged opiate use, the nerve cells in the brain, which would otherwise produce endogenous opiates (natural painkillers, or endorphins), cease to function normally. The body stops producing endorphins because it is receiving opiates instead. The degeneration of these nerve cells causes a physical dependency to an external supply of opiates. After repeatedly using heroin for a period of time, the long-term effects of the substance begin to appear in the user. Chronic users may develop collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, and liver disease. Additionally, users may also experience pulmonary complications, including various types of pneumonia.

Regular opiate use creates tolerance, which requires the abuser to use more heroin to achieve the same intensity or effect that they are seeking. As higher doses of the drug are used over time, physical dependence and addiction to the drug develop. According to estimates, some 750,000 to 1 million Americans are addicted to heroin. A recent report estimates that 30 million people have used prescription pain relievers like OxyContin and Vicodin for non-medical reasons. In addition to the effects of the drug itself, users who inject heroin also put themselves at risk for contracting HIV, hepatitis C (HCV), and other infectious diseases. Approximately 70–80% of the new HCV infections in the U.S. each year are among injection drug users.

Studies have shown that Buprenorphine is a safe and effective medication for people who are addicted to heroin, vicodin, codeine or other opiate drugs. Buprenorphine is an opioid partial agonist. This means that, although buprenorphine is an opioid, and thus can produce typical opioid agonist effects and side effects such as euphoria and respiratory depression, its maximal effects are less than those of full agonists like heroin and methadone. In fact, buprenorphine carries a lower risk of abuse, addiction, and side effects compared to full opioid agonists. Click here for more detailed information on Buprenorphine, including Subutex, Suboxone, procedures, benefits, safety factors and success rates.

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For additional information on other drug-specific addictions, please see the following links:

Prescription Drug Addiction

Methadone Addiction

Meth Addiction

Crack Cocaine Addiction

Opiate Addiction

Heroin Addiction

Alcoholism

Source: Above information on addiction are excerpts from "Addicton is a Brain Disease" by Dr. Alan Leshner, former Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (2001).

Pat Moore Foundation's drug & alcohol detox and alcohol & drug addiction treatment programs are licensed and certified by The State of California. We provide non-medical and medically managed detoxification (using Suboxone, Subutex, and Buprenorphine when appropriate) and primary residential treatment. Our individual homes are on a unique co-ed campus where we offer gender specific treatment. We are located in Costa Mesa, in Orange County, Southern California, close to Newport Beach and Huntington Beach, and only an hour's drive from Los Angeles and San Diego. To speak with a counselor, please call us 24-hours at (888) 426-6086 or if you'd like us to contact you.

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