According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opiate addiction in the United States affects an estimated 2.5 million people every year. A population that years ago was primarily comprised of heroin addicts, has recently expanded to include an entire family of opiate drugs. These include not only heroin, but also prescription painkillers like Oxycontin, Vicodin and Fentanyl, among others.

For the many who have fallen victim to this problem they can only describe it as a trap they cannot get out of. Most opiate addicts quickly find themselves both mentally and physically addicted to the drug and unable to stop. In many cases the problem began innocently with a valid prescription to a painkiller that the patient started abusing.

The latest statistics report that of the total number of opiate addicts there are 1 million people addicted to heroin, 3 million who have used it once in their lives and another 1.4 million abusing other opiates like painkillers.

The Different Types of Opiate Drugs

As mentioned above users are now taking a variety of different opiate drugs. Broken down synthetically theses substances are chemically related and produce very similar effects. However, the strength of each substance vary as do the means for use. Here are the different types of opiate drugs.

Heroin– Going by street names like Smack, Dope, Dust or Black tar heroin is the most addictive and strongest opiate drug. It is sold as a white or brownish powder or in a black tar format. The powder form of heroin can be snorted, smoked or injected. Black Tar heroin is used by injecting the drug. After being taken, heroin users report an initial euphoric rush. This is followed by an intermitted state of sleep and wakefulness and a slowing of the bodies reactions and movements. [Ref: http://www.justice.gov/dea/druginfo/drug_data_sheets/Heroin.pdf]

Oxycontin – Initially released as a ‘wonder drug’ to numb the pain of terminally ill cancer patients, Oxycontin has the active ingredient Oxycodone.  Many compare Oxycontin to other painkillers but it is much stronger than any other type of opiate painkiller on the market. The drug was released in a ‘time release’ pill so it could provide extended relief to those in chronic pain. Unfortunately the drug posed an abuse risk when users began removing the time release crushing up the pill and then snorting, smoking or injecting the drug. Oxycontin comes in 10 mg to 160 mg tablets.

Vicoden – Named as the “most widely abused drug in the U.S.” Vicodin is a drug with the active ingredient Hydrocodone mixed with Acetaminophen. Currently an average of 130 million prescriptions of Vicodin are written every year. The drug is not as strong as heroin or Oxycontin but is just as addictive. Many prescriptions for Vicodin are written every year after basic surgeries, dental procedures, broken bones and other injuries or illnesses. The average dose prescribed of this drug is 1-2 pills every 4 to 6 hours. The milligrams per dosage vary depending on the severity of pain.

Fentanyl – Similar to a drug called morphine, Fentanyl is another powerful drug that is used for severe pain. It is often prescribed after surgery or for those with chronic pain. Called things like China, Fever or Tango and Cash the drug is often used by injecting it. In the medial arena a doctor or other qualified professional administers it. Unfortunately recent news indicates that through clandestine laboratories some have been manufacturing the drug and abusing it.

Opium – Extracted from a plant called the opium poppy plant, this drug is an illicit substances that looks like a black tar. Opium historically is known as a drug that was used in traditional and ancient rituals or religious ceremonies ages ago. The drug is smoked and said to produce ‘intense’ relaxation.

Morphine – One of the strongest medical drugs used today, Morphine was first extracted back in 1817. As the primary medical pain reliever has been used for nearly 200 years. The substance has very similar effects to heroin.

Signs of Opiate Addiction

Drugs like heroin, Vicodin, Fentanyl and Oxycontin and others mentioned above produce very similar effects. Some of the most common of these indicating opiate use are:

  • Euphoria
  • Drowsiness
  • Respiratory Depression
  • Unconsciousness
  • Clammy Skin
  • Nausea
  • Itchiness
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Constricted (small) pupils.

Opiates also cause severe physical withdrawal symptoms to users. These can occur after just a few uses and grow stronger and more severe as the addiction progresses. Some of the withdrawal symptoms with opiates include:

  • Lower back pain.
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Constipation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Grief
  • Intense Cravings
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions.
  • Shaking
  • Severe muscle aches.

The Cycle of Opiate Abuse

Like other addictions no one plans to become addiction to drugs like morphine, Oxycontin, heroin and other opiates. In some cases an individual will not be educated on these drugs, trying them and becoming addicted. In other cases one will be legally prescribed or given a less strong drug, leading them to become addicted to a stronger opiate. Here is an example of how someone can become addicted to opiates:

  1. A man breaks his arm and is prescribed Vicoden to manage the pain associated with the injury.
  2. He feels that the drugs solves some type of problem for him and therefore finds it valuable to him in some way.
  3. As time progresses he starts to ‘rely’ on the drug, beginning to depend on it more and more.
  4. Seeing this the man tries to stop and begins to have some of the common withdrawal effects mentioned above. Deep down he knows this may be the beginning of a problem but continues to take them. He justifies this by coming up with reasons why he needs them.
  5. As the addiction grows stronger the need for the drug grows. The man seeks out more painkillers either by seeing the doctor again and complaining of pain, getting or taking drugs from families or friends or even turning to street drugs.
  6. Soon after this the main is dealing with a full blown addiction. At this point he will begin to suffer problems as a result. Some could include financial difficulties, legal problems, or even health issues.

In many cases of opiate abuse, especially in the last 10 years the abuse begins with painkillers. The most recent statistics report that nearly 8 million people mis-use these substances every year.

Helping an Opiate Addict

There are many ways to help someone who is addicted to opiate drugs. To start, getting educated on the different types of abused opiates is key. Next, try to speak with the user and provide useful information that will aid in solving the problem. The ultimate goal is to help the user to seek treatment.

With opiates the drug use and addiction will become progressively worse if not treated properly. Act quickly to get the user help or if you are using these drugs, get help through an effective program.