Opiates are a group of drugs used for relieving post-surgery pain, injury-related pain or pain from cancer or some other severe disease. There are natural opiates and synthetic opiates, all of which fall under the term “opioid” as a general term. Opiates come in the form of some common drugs you’ve probably heard of: codeine, OxyContin, Percocet, morphine, heroin and Vicodin. Drugs of the opiate variety come from opium (a substance that derives from the poppy plant). There are several different ways to take opiates: orally taking pills, crushing and then snorting pills, injecting, or smoking. These drugs can be found being sold on the street with a variety of nicknames. Codeine and hydrocodone go by street names like Cough Syrup and Schoolboy. People ordinarily refer to OxyContin as Oxys, Blues or Hillbilly Heroin on the street.

Though the purpose for most of these drugs were or are for medical use, the issue of using them on a street level basis (meaning the abuse of and/or without prescription) is getting out of hand. This might have something to do with the fact that opiates are highly addictive, prescribed or not. A lot of teenagers are taking opiate prescription pills or heroin to get high now. In whatever form they can get their hands on it, the modern generation mindset seems to gravitate towards opiates as these seem to be trending side by side with Molly (a popular type of Ecstasy). Prescription pill abuse happens to be growing at a significant rate, resulting in a colossal opiate narcotic situation in the United States. To give you a clearer picture, let’s take a look at what the statistics pertaining to this reveal:

  • Opiate abuse/addiction cost Americans over $484 billion every year (this includes things like healthcare costs, lost wages, etc).
  • Roughly 50% of suspects arrested for violent crimes in the United States were on opiates when arrested.
  • Approximately 3.7 million people have used heroin at some point, according to the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
  • More than 119,000 of those 3.7 million people reported using heroin within the past month of being surveyed.
  • According to the 2002 Drug Abuse Warning Network, the emergency visits to the hospital linking to heroin use added up to 93,519 visits.
  • Roughly 20.4 million Americans (12 years or older) in 2006 were using opiates illegally.
  • According to a 2010 survey done by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1 in 12 high school senior kids had abused Vicodin in that past year and 1 in 20 abused OxyContin.

Judging by the statistical outline alone, it’s not difficult to pinpoint the general direction the opiate problem is headed toward. With the practice of opiate doctor shopping getting more and more common, it looks like drugs such as cocaine are starting to abate generally and OxyContin pills are beginning to become progressively trendy.

How Does Somebody Develop an Addiction to Opiate Pills

How exactly does somebody get addicted to prescription opiate pills? It’s an appropriate and not entirely judgmental question. In retrospect, the opiate drug has addictive properties in itself. Whether somebody is trying it illicitly off the street, or does in fact have a prescription attached to their devoted high, there have been countless stories of both users getting typically hooked on the stuff for good. So it really doesn’t matter if the addiction carries the particular stigma from purchasing the drugs illegally or not, because either way these drugs are potentially addictive teetering on a somewhat drastic level. Point blank.

More or less the story goes like this: A typical physically-pained patient who is prescribed Percocets, for instance, finds that they like how it makes them feel on a mental level (in so many words), aside from the fact that it’s relieving their immediate physical pain. But then their tolerance begins to build, and quite fast too. After some time they start to find that they require a bit more to get that feeling back. Before they know it they run out of these pills that, unbeknownst to them, is soon turning into the only thing that gets them through the day. A sense of urgency doesn’t necessarily evade them when they’re faced with the fact that their prescription has come to a screeching halt. This is probably the most crucial point in every patient’s post-properly medicated life: when they start lying about the amount of pain they’re in (and sometimes they’re no longer in pain at all at this point). That’s precisely when you know they’re hooked, and the focal point of the story. Sometimes these patients turn to doctor shopping when their addiction gets really bad. Other times they turn to a cheaper and more accessible alternative (opiate street drugs) such as heroin. Sadly this story is all too common in the United States.


Whether heroin is the last resort to some housewife who had gotten addicted to opiate painkillers due to a back injury or whether it’s one of the primary drugs of choice for some high school student falling into an experimental phase, access to it seems to be rising in direct proportion to the ultimately huge demand. You can find heroin being sold almost everywhere, going by the street names H, Horse, Train, Smack, etc. Unfortunately, this notorious drug is highly addictive and equally dangerous. Heroin can damage the body in many ways and usually ends up leaving the user in a very deteriorated state physically in comparison to how they were prior to using the drug. The drug impacts the body over time, and this can result in a weakened immune system, bad teeth, inflamed gums, loss of memory and respiratory illnesses.

Though this is just one, among a list of many, opiate drugs it is one of the most popularized all over the world and therefore requires some attention. Part of the reason why it’s so commonly used is that tolerance to it isn’t developed as quickly as to some other opiate drugs (like OxyContin). Therefore users that involve themselves with opiates find they can get more for their buck particularly with heroin.

Cascade of Negative Effects of Opiates

Opiate dependency will invariably lead to the final downfall where the user, after hitting rock bottom several times, is eventually faced with the predicament of what they’re going to experience when they withdraw from the drug. Withdrawal is an intense hurdle on the road to recovery and this is why opiate addiction is probably one of the hardest to overcome. In order to know what to expect, and when, here are some symptoms laid out. Early opiate withdrawal symptoms look like:

  • Anxiety
  • Muscle Aches and pains
  • Insomnia
  • Runny nose
  • Agitation
  • Low energy
  • Teary eyes
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Goose bumps
  • Cold sweats

The withdrawal symptoms which come later are:

  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Concentration problems
  • Feeling unmotivated

In order to wrap your mind around how opiates can create negative effects like these, it’s important to know what these drugs do to the brain. Opiates bind to certain receptors in the brain that control movement, mood, digestion, body temperature and breathing. Because opiates impinge heavily on the brain like this, it becomes very easy to get addicted to them because the user bounces from feeling intensely euphoric while high to progressively irritable each time they sober up.

By Robert O. Newman II, ICDAC, ICPS, CIP