What are opioids?

Opiates Vs Opioids

First off let’s define Opiates vs Opioids. Opiates are drugs derived from the opium plant. In earlier years opioids stricly meant synthetic opiates. These were created in a lab, thus the term synthetic. They were designed to behave like opium, but on a base level they are different.  Today however, the term Opioid is used to describe the whole family of opiates. Both natural synethetic and hybrids (semi synchteic).

Opioids are drugs that affect the opioid receptors in the brain and in the spinal cord. They reduce the intensity of the pain and how the body responds to it. Opioids also work in the brain areas that control emotions, it can further decrease the painful stimuli.

For centuries, medical practitioners used opioids to treat a cough, pain even diarrhea.

Typically, opioids are used to treat acute or severe pain. Since the 90s opioids have increasingly used as a treatment for chronic pain. Even if little evidence proving its effectiveness.

Correspondingly, there are reports that people suffer from an illness known as hyperalgesia.  Hyperalgesia is a condition which increases a person’s sensitivity to pain because of opioid treatments.

Aside from relieving pain, opioids also affect the reward system of the brain resulting in a state of euphoria. Providing this kind of ‘high’ feeling is one of the main reasons for the misuse of the drug that eventually lead to addiction.

Opioids contain the same chemical components of heroin. These drugs first synthesized from morphine in the late 19th century. Similarly, these properties present a greater risk of addiction and overdose. Even when a person is following legitimate prescriptions.

How opioids influence the brain and body?

Opioids work in attaching themselves to the opioid receptor proteins. These are found on the nerve cells in the spinal cord, brain, digestive system and other organs in the body. Once attached to the receptors, they decrease the pain signal transmissions.

Known effects of opioids include:

  • sleepiness/drowsiness
  • mental confusion
  • nausea
  • constipation
  • respiratory distress


Also, opioids affect the reward system in the brain inducing euphoria. When taken in higher dosages or administered in other ways than prescribed it can intensify its effects.

Some people take drugs in other ways than prescribed to intensify its effects.  For example, a drug was prescribed as an oral medication to have a steady, constant release of the opioid. People often change its form in preparation for injecting or snorting the drug.  It generates a greater chance of getting medical complications even drug overdose.

The Case of Drug Overdose

In 2012, heroin addiction plagued the United States. More than 2 million Americans suffered from opioid painkiller abuse. Opiate abuse can result to many health complications and more often than not leads to death because of overdose.

Effects of Opiates in the Body

Effect of Opiates in the brain

The side effects of opiate painkillers can induce daytime sleepiness or drowsiness.


  • Heroin can cause intermittent attacks of “nodding off”. Users can sometimes slip in and out of consciousness.
  • This can cause accidents when the users are in the dangerous environment. For example when a user nods off when driving, swimming or working in heavy machinery.
  • Users who abuse opiates for more than six months had an increase chance of 50% greater developing depression attacks.


Effect of Opiates in the   Respiratory System

  • opiates can result in respiratory distress, a condition which slows down breathing and can lead to death
  • even in adequate doses, drugs can take away the proper supply of oxygen in the brain and body tissues of oxygen


Effect of Opiates in the  Digestive System

  • opiates disturb the digestive process and can lead to constipation because of the slow movement of the digestive track
  • The slowed movement can lead to more serious health complications.
  • like bowel obstruction, peritonitis even bowel perforation
  • Abusive use of opioid painkillers can cause involuntary vomiting and nausea


Effect of Opiates in the Nervous System  

  • people who develop hyperalgesia can have an increased sensitivity to pain
  • opioids can lead to psychomotor disability, which slows down the physical movement of a person
  • drug abuse of opiates can also generate loss of body coordination


Effect of Opiates in the Immune System

  • opioids can weaken the immune system
  • This can lead to the exposure to infection because opioid receptors engaged in the regulation of immunity.


 Effect of Opiates in the   Liver

  • acetaminophen in painkillers like Vicodin and Percocet can cause liver damage
  • another harmful effect of opiates in the body is when the drug is mix with alcohol. The mixture can promote reduction of the liver’s ability to process the chemical of the toxic combination of ethanol and acetaminophen


The Effects of Injecting Opiates

  • injecting heroin or crushed pills into the system can cause interstitial lung disease

septic pulmonary embolism and tuberculosis infection

  • sharing needles can lead to hepatitis C and a higher chance of contracting HIV
  • Chronic heroin or injecting crushed pill can lead veins to collapse
  • injection of heroin can lead to an infection in the heart’s lining known as endocarditis
  • contaminants in heroin can block blood vessels and can cause organ failure



What are opioids?
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