Opioids are one of the most addictive groups of drugs around, affecting many communities in all parts of the world. Most opioid drugs are synthesised from the Asian-native opium poppy plant. Mainly used for recreational purposes, opioids typically have a pain-reducing and euphoric effects.
Deaths related to synthetic opioids such as Fentanyl are considered to be 50 times more potent than heroin, rose from eight in 2008 to 135 in 2017.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) said the government should introduce controls to tackle the “emerging threat” the painkiller poses.
The ACMD said a rise in the number of deaths in the UK is being driven by fentanyl being added to heroin.
The most commonly used opioids are prescription opioids and heroin.
Some of the most regularly prescribed opioids include:
• Fentanyl and Alfentanil
Heroin is a physically and psychologically addictive drug and is considered to be two or three times stronger than morphine. Because heroin can quickly lead to tolerance, users are at a high risk of dying from an overdose.
However, fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is 50–100 times more potent than morphine, with its potency means that even small doses can be deadly.
How are opioids used?
These days, many opioid medications are available on prescription, with a growing number of teenagers and adults alike, who have been given one medication for a headache or back pain and soon became addicted to the mildly euphoric opioid effect. They then find themselves drawn back to that feeling in times of stress and, because these drugs are so readily available, tolerance and dependence leads to a rapid increase in the quantity consumed.
For this reason, opioids can be the gateway drugs to other stronger prescription opioid painkillers as well as heroin.
The Rise in Opioid Addictions
Most of the short-term effects of opioid drugs include a rush of euphoria, relaxation and pain relief. The drug also depresses your breathing, creating a warm feeling in the body, putting you in a tranquil state of mind.
After the immediate rush, the user will find themselves alternating between feeling sleepy and awake. Heroin also creates a sort-of apathy towards major biological drives like hunger or sex, as well as suppresses some feelings like fear or remorse.
Dangers of opioid abuse
Opioids have many dangerous and unpleasant consequences, in addition to overdose, death or addiction. Some minor side effects are dry mouth, drowsiness, heavy feeling in the limbs, and clouded mind state or impaired mental function.
More serious consequences include constipation, pneumonia and other respiratory problems (especially if smoking), and abscesses. Chronic users are also at risk for malnutrition or hyponatremia (low sodium levels, resulting in disrupted body processes).
Users who inject opioids like heroin are also at risk for blood-borne viruses, such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis, more so if injecting in an unclean environment or with used needles. Other risks associated with injection are collapsed veins or the development of deep-vein thrombosis (DVT).
Tolerance for heroin develops quickly, so a user may find themselves increasing their dosage drastically. In addition, withdrawal symptoms can start within several hours of last use, prompting the user to re-dose. With these two factors combine, heroin can easily become an expensive and life-consuming habit.
What are adulterants and how are they used?
The majority of illicit opioids sold on the streets or dark web are cut with adulterants, some of which are relatively harmless; some of which are dangerous and deadly.
Fillers such as sugar, starch, powdered milk, flour, or quinine are commonly used to visually bulk up heroin, as is strychnine, a highly toxic pesticide used on rodents. Anaesthetics are also be found in heroin samples.
Black tar heroin may have shoe polish, and dirt/soil as an additive, putting the user at risk for botulism poisoning.
Heroin may also be contaminated with by-products from manufacturing, especially if the heroin was prepared in a home lab. Some dealers are also known to mix in other drugs, such as methamphetamine, along with heroin.
The two most dangerous adulterants, however, are fentanyl and carfentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate substitute potentially 100-times stronger than morphine. Carfentanyl is an analogue of fentanyl but is by far more toxic.
It takes very little of fentanyl/carfentanyl to create the same effects as heroin on a person.
Fentanyl has also shown up as an adulterant in other drugs, including coke, and has caused many deaths worldwide. Despite warnings, some users don’t mind the addition of this dangerous drug, claiming that it enhances the high.
Signs of Opioid Addiction
Opioid addiction is not always easy to notice, but it can show up more prominently on a long-term user. Here are some common symptoms of opioid abuse or addiction in a person:
• Varying between an alert and fatigued state in a short period of time
• Laboured breathing
• Infections, especially in areas used for ingestion
• Constricted pupils
• Low motivation and disinterest in life
• Memory problems
• Slurred speech
• Poor self-hygiene and self-care routine
• Evidence of withdrawal symptoms
Opioid Addiction Treatment
Recovering from opioid addiction begins with detox or weaning-off period, which can last a week or much longer, depending on your history of use. A detox treatment programme may involve substitute medication, such as buprenorphine, methadone, or naltrexone, which is gradually decreased until the patient can function and maintain abstinence.
The detox period is followed by or complemented with psychotherapy, such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) or holistic therapeutic techniques. Group and individual therapy are both recommended, especially for serious addictions like opioids.
It is always recommended that an opioid detox be done in a residential setting. Residential rehab can make the uncomfortable and unpleasant detox process more bearable, and provide professional medical staff and setting, which may be necessary.
Opioid cravings can last for months, even after a previous user has become abstinent. This is why a relapse prevention programme, continued care, and/or attendance at a local support group are important.
If you’re considering rehab, or you know someone who needs help, but aren’t sure of where to start, Which Rehab can help you find the right clinic to suit your needs. Contact us on 0800 170 7000 to begin your journey to recovery.