What are Opiates / Opioid Prescription Painkillers?
Opiates are made from opium, which comes from the poppy plant. Opiates can have important medical benefits; they are powerful painkillers, are sometimes prescribed to control severe diarrhea, and are often a key ingredient in cough medicine.
When used properly for medical purposes, opiates such as Oxycontin, Vicodin, morphine and codeine can be very helpful.
However, opiates used without a doctor’s prescription or in ways other than how they are prescribed, can be dangerous and addictive. See Yahoo’s posting on “Oxycontin: History, Uses, Side Effects, and Withdrawal”
Opioid misuse can reset the brain’s chemistry to think the drug is necessary for survival. When your brain tells you that you can’t live without a drug, it can quickly lead to compulsive drug-seeking behavior.
The World Health Organization and the National Institute on Drug Abuse have defined dependence on opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin, as a long-term brain disease.
HOW OPIATES WORK:
The effects of all opiates depend on the amount taken and the method of delivery. This is true of both prescription medications, such as Vicodin and street drugs like heroin.
If opiates are swallowed as pills, they take longer to reach the brain. If they are injected, they act faster and can produce a quick, intense feeling of pleasure followed by a sense of well-being and a calm drowsiness.
Opiates resemble natural chemicals within the brain and body whose primary function is to bind to opiate receptors. Scientists have identified three types of opiate receptors: mu, delta, and kappa (named after letters in the Greek alphabet). Each of these receptors is involved in different functions. For example, mu receptors are responsible for the pleasurable effects of opiates and their pain-relieving properties.
Opiates act in various centers of the brain and nervous system, including:
- The limbic system, which controls emotions. Acting here, opiates can produce feelings of pleasure, relaxation, and contentment.
- The brainstem, which controls automatic body functions such as breathing. Opiates can act on the brainstem to slow breathing, stop coughing, and lessen feelings of pain.
- The spinal cord, which transmits neural impulses throughout the body. Opiates act within the spinal cord decrease feelings of pain, even following serious injuries.