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What are Opiates?

Opiates are drugs that are used in many medications as well as abused illegally. They are also highly addictive. Opiates can cause many issues for individuals who become addicted or even physically dependent on them, as they cause withdrawal symptoms in those who do. Often, people must seek treatment for opiate abuse and addiction.

What are Opiates?

The NIDA Teen describes opiates as “powerful painkillers.” This is one of their many functions, but opiates are drugs that diminish pain sensitivity. They also “depress body functions and reactions” and “cause a strong euphoric feeling” when a person takes them in high doses (DOI). Opiates can be mild but sometimes affect a person very strongly if they are a more intense type or are taken in large quantities. This is why they are used for both medical and recreational purposes and why they can also be very dangerous.

Where Do Opiates Come From?

opiate abuse

Opiates derive in some way from the opium poppy plant.

Opiates are drugs that come from the poppy plant, Papaver somniferum. The natural substances that are found in the poppy plant are processed and turned into opiates. Some examples of natural opiate drugs are:

  • Opium: a drug which is used recreationally, often by smoking, in order to achieve a euphoric high
  • Morphine: an opiate analgesic that “works by changing the way the brain and nervous system respond to pain” (NLM). It is often abused as well.
  • Codeine: a drug that relieves pain which is mild or moderate and can be found in cough syrups as it can also act as a cough suppressant

There are many other types of opiate-based drugs, but these three are naturally occurring in the poppy plant.

Opiates Vs. Opioids

There are several terms for different types of narcotics, or opiate-based drugs. What is the difference between opiates and opioids? Opiates are substances which occur in nature and are not man-made. Opioids, however, are either synthetic or semi-synthetic, which means that all or some of the ingredients or processes are not naturally occurring.

  • Natural opiates- opium, morphine, codeine
  • Semi-synthetic opioids- oxycodone, hydrocodone, heroin
  • Synthetic opioids- fentanyl, dextropropoxyphene, azaprocin

Opioid is also the general term for any and all opiate-based drugs, so even natural opiates may be called opioids if a blanket term is needed. But opiates are generally referred to when specifically natural substances are being discussed.

Effects of Opiates

Opiates and opioids have the same general effects on users. They are, according to the DOI:

  • “Constricted pupils”
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Slowed breathing
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Euphoria
  • Sweating
  • Mood swings
  • Stupor
  • Apathy
  • Depression

Opiate use can also cause many long-term effects such as addiction, overdose, and endocarditis (in the case of heroin abuse). People could also seriously injure themselves while using opiates and not realize it because their tolerance for pain will be so high. Opiates can be dangerous if they are used improperly, whether they were prescribed or not. You should never use opiates in a way or at a dosage that was not prescribed by a doctor, as they have a very high chance of causing addiction. Opiates can affect the mind, causing a person’s reward system in the brain to change. Though many opiates are legal, one should be cautious when using them.