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An opiate (or opioid) is a narcotic analgesic that depresses the central nervous system. Natural opiates
are derived from the poppy plant. These include: morphine, codeine, heroin, and opium. Synthetic opiates are manufactured medications or drugs designed to mimic the effects of naturally derived opiates.
These include Methadone, Percocet, Percodan, OxyContin, Vicodan, Lorcet, Lortab, Demerol, Dilaudid, and Duragesic. Together, natural and synthetic opiates are known as opioids. Opiates include the illegal drug heroin as well as powerful prescription pain reliever medications.
Prescription pain medications reduce the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain and affect those brain areas controlling emotion, which diminishes the effects of a painful stimulus. Common medications that fall within this class include hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin), oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin, Percocet), morphine (e.g., Kadian, Avinza), codeine, morphine, fentanyl and related drugs.
Hydrocodone products are the most commonly prescribed for a variety of painful conditions, including dental and injury-related pain. Morphine is often used before and after surgical procedures to alleviate severe pain. Codeine, on the other hand, is often prescribed for mild pain. In addition to their pain relieving properties, some of these drugs—codeine and diphenoxylate (Lomotil) for example—can be used to relieve coughs and severe diarrhea.
Opioids work by attaching to proteins called opioid receptors, which are found in the brain, spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract, and other parts of the body. When these drugs attach to their receptors, they reduce the perception of pain.
Opioid pain relievers are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor, but they are frequently misused (taken in a different way or in a greater quantity than prescribed, or taken without a doctor’s prescription) because they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief. Because of this, opiates are highly addictive. Regular use—even as prescribed by a doctor—can produce dependence.
Taken in large quantities, opioids can cause slow breathing and death. Prescription opioid medications can have effects similar to heroin when taken in doses or in ways other than prescribed, and they are currently among the most commonly abused drugs in the United States. Research suggests that abuse of these prescription drugs may open the door to heroin abuse.
Heroin, which is derived from morphine, can be injected via a needle, smoked in a water pipe, mixed
into a marijuana or tobacco cigarette, or snorted nasally. All routes of administration deliver the drug
to the brain very rapidly, which contributes to its high health risks and to its high risk for addiction. Addiction is a chronic relapsing disease caused by changes in the brain and characterized by uncontrollable drug-seeking no matter the consequences.
Heroin often comes in small packages, and sometimes in small balloons. Since it is frequently cut with other drugs, particularly fentanyl, users do not know exactly what they are buying, which can result in overdose and possibly death. Recently, a new synthetic opiate, carfentanil, has been mixed with heroin. This is a very powerful opiate, and often results in overdose.
Heroin is known by a variety of nicknames such as Big H, Black Tar, Horse and Dog. Heroin usually appears as a white or brown powder or as a black sticky substance, known as "black tar heroin."
This information was obtained from the following sources:
National Institute on Drug Abuse
Partnership for Drug Free Kids
Drug Policy Alliance
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration