Upwards of 2 million people are currently in the grip of opiate addiction
and more than 12 million Americans admit to abusing opiates. Roughly
every 19 minutes, someone dies from a prescription painkiller overdose.
The number of painkiller overdose deaths now exceeds the number of
deaths from heroin and cocaine combined. There is just so much of it out
there. Because of the rising numbers of use, addiction, overdose and
deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have classified
prescription painkiller abuse as an epidemic.
Opiates can be natural or synthetic. Opiates by definition are considered
to be the natural alkaloids found in the resin of the opium poppy plant.
However, some definitions of opiates include the semi-synthetic
substances that are directly derived from the opium poppy as well.
As such, natural opiates include opium, morphine, and codeine. Other
substances that are man-made are called opioids. These are most used
to treat chronic pain and include Vicodin, Oxycodone, Demerol and
Dilaudid. In the end, they are all usually referred to as opiates and are
all highly addictive.
One of the keys to understanding opiate addition is to learn exactly
what these substances are doing to and for the user aside from
their medicinal pain-relieving properties. Most or many people are
looking for or appreciate an escape from reality and whatever it is
that they feel is ‘pulling them down in life‘. It may be that they don’t
feel they fit in, aren’t being treated fairly, etc. Opiates briefly stimulate
the higher centers of the brain, giving the user an immediate “rush”
of pleasure. The drug also depresses the central nervous system,
bringing on a deep feeling of happiness. One may feel at peace with
the world and forget about pain, depression, and even that you were
hungry. It is a nearly irresistible feeling to someone that has been
searching for some sort of “relief”, and not just physical relief. There
is much more going on here, however.
Opiates work in the central nervous system as a CNS depressant.
While prescribed to treat pain, they do so by affecting the chemical
pathway in the brain known as the dopamine pathway. Dopamine
is the natural chemical in the brain that prepares us to experience
good things like pleasure and a sense of well-being. This is one of
the most important things you can learn about opiates. The fact that
opiates “resemble natural chemicals” that bind to neurotransmitters
in the brain. What this means is that the body is already capable of
producing these “feel good” chemicals in the brain to bind to its opiate
The human brain is naturally capable of calling forth feelings of
pleasure, contentment, relaxation and even pain relief. However, once
we start putting something unnatural into the mix and bombarding
our system with synthetic happiness, the body and brain forget that
it’s capable of doing this on its own and becomes dependent upon
the unnatural solution for those same feelings. A solution that in time
is going to stop working anyway. What people are doing with opiates
is rewiring their brains and that’s a frightening proposition.
Use of opiates for a legitimate pain issue or a one-time experiment
can turn into abuse over an extended period of time or in the blink
of an eye. That feeling of “relief” that I talked about when using
the drugs isn’t uncommon and generally makes the user want to
try them again and soon. Opiate addiction causes users to have
a strong need for persistent, repeated use of the drug. This need
is known as craving. Finally, attempts to stop using the drug lead
to significant and painful physical symptoms called withdrawal. I
remember both too well and don’t ever want to go back to those
days of craving drugs, having to use them just to feel “normal” and
being constantly terrified of withdrawal symptoms setting in.
One of the most disturbing and tragic trends with respect to opiate
addiction is the recent rise in heroin abuse in this country. The
number of Americans using the drug has increased by nearly 50
percent in the past decade, according to a report by the U.S.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
While I think it could have been foreseen, this probably could not
have been avoided simply due to market conditions and the illegal
nature of the drug. The rise in heroin use and abuse is due almost
entirely to the crackdown in recent years in prescription opiate
abuse. In fact, data shows that up to 80 percent of heroin users
started with prescription painkillers.
While many opiate addicts may start out thinking of heroin as a
low class drug that they would never touch, the reality is that
they are already addicted to a form of it. With new regulations
and law enforcement making access to these drugs much more
difficult, users are being driven to another opiate that happens
to be cheaper, more powerful and infinitely more destructive.
Floods of cheap heroin continue to enter the country from Mexico
and South America. The fact is that heroin addiction is changing
rapidly in this country, both geographically and demographically.
When we think of opiate or painkiller addicts now, many times
we think of a housewife, professional, suburban teenager and
even the occasional retiree. Well, now take that mental picture
and apply it to heroin addiction.
For those in the grip of opiate addiction, or who have a loved one
in its grasp, there is hope. Oceanside Malibu Treatment Center offers
a structured environment that provides our clients with the best
opportunity to build a solid foundation for their recovery from opiate
addiction. Our skilled team of therapists, along with our licensed
affiliated psychiatrists and medical doctors, work together to design
a tailored program that meets the needs of each individual client.