An opioid is a chemical substance used for pain relief. There are several different kinds of opioids including:

  • natural opiates
  • semi-synthetic opiates
  • fully synthetic opioids
  • endogenous opioid peptides.

Natural opiates are contained in the resin of the opium poppy plant and include morphine and codeine. Semi-synthetic opiates are created from natural opioids and include buprenorphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone and oxymorphone. Fully synthetic opioids include Fentanyl, Tramadol and Methadone. Endogenous opioid peptides are produced naturally by the body and include endorphins and dynorphins.

Though often used synonymously, the terms “opiate” and “opioid” have two different meanings.

Opiates are drugs derived from opium. The word “opioids” refers to synthetic opiates such as Fentanyl, but the term is more often used to describe the entire class of opiates, including semi-synthetic and synthetic. An opioid is any substance that activates the body’s opioid receptors. They bind to the receptors in the central nervous system and in other tissues.

Opiod Uses

Opioids have been around for ages and are used in the treatment of pain due to injuries, illness or surgery. They are prized for their important role in treating long-term, chronic pain in those who are terminally ill with conditions such as cancer.

In recent years, prescriptions for opiate painkillers have increased, especially for non-malignant, chronic pain. Prescriptions for strong opiates have been reportedly written for conditions such as headaches and menstrual cramps. In the U.S., opioids are indicated for the following uses:

  • Analgesic to combat pain
  • Cough suppressant
  • Diarrhea
  • Drug detoxification (methadone and buprenorphine)

Tolerance, Addiction, Withdrawal And Side Effects

Once introduced into the body, opiates create more and more opiate receptor sites. This is responsible for what is known as tolerance. Users can build up a tolerance and require a higher dose to achieve the same effect. Physical and/or psychological addiction can occur with regular use.

Detoxing from opioids can be extremely difficult and many people require in-patient treatment that is medically supervised.

Withdrawal from opioid drugs can be very intense. Symptoms include:

  • vomiting
  • muscle and bone pain
  • fatigue
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • nausea
  • tremors
  • muscle spasms
  • chills
  • sweating
  • irritability
  • restlessness and sleep problems.

Congress outlawed non-clinical use of opioids including heroin in 1914 with the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act. Though reports from around the world show that opioids can be safe when taken properly, illicit use and addiction have skyrocketed in recent years.

Common side effects of opioids include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • drowsiness
  • constipation
  • dry mouth
  • pupil constriction
  • itching.M

More serious, but less frequent, side effects include:

  • muscle rigidity
  • respiratory depression
  • confusion
  • hallucination
  • delirium
  • dizziness
  • headaches
  • slowed heart rate
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