People rarely distinguish between opioid and opiate addiction today. Initially, opiates were produced with parts of the poppy plant to make potent painkillers. Opioids are synthetic drugs made in a lab and they have the same characteristics and effects as the opiate drugs. Today, we don’t distinguish between the two terms. Either term refers to the entire scope of prescription drugs and street drugs sold.
Opioid addiction is one of the biggest concerns shared by communities across this nation today. It touches people of both sexes, in all age groups, and from every walk of life. More than 130 people die every day from opioid-related overdoses. Prescription opioid abuse is a leading cause of opioid addiction, with 11.4 million misusing prescription drugs.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids are a class of drugs that doctors prescribe to relieve pain. The original opiate drug came from the poppy plant. Now, various forms of synthetic drugs are available which have the same effects as those made from natural ingredients. These drugs are sold as prescriptions and/or as street drugs. Opioids are highly effective when used as intended to treat acute or chronic pain. When they aren’t used as prescribed or for recreational purposes, addiction develops quickly.
Some of the modern versions of opioids are highly dangerous and have contributed to many deaths due to their potential to cause an overdose. Fentanyl is one of the most dangerous substances circulating on the streets today. The drug is extremely potent with a strength that is 30 to 50 times that of heroin and as much as 100 times that of morphine. As explained further down, a person who gets a potent drug like Fentanyl when they think they are getting heroin or morphine is at a much greater risk of overdosing and dying.
Carfentanil is another dangerous synthetic opioid causing overdoses and death. This drug is a clone of fentanyl that was previously known as Wildnil. This opioid is an animal tranquilizer and is 100 times more powerful than fentanyl! Carfentanil is legal for use by veterinarians who work with large animals like elephants.
What Makes Opioids So Addictive?
Opiates work by activating the reward centers in the brain. They trigger the release of endorphins, the neurotransmitters in the brain that cause a strong sense of well-being. The feeling is short-lived, leading the person to try and repeat the experience. This is the beginning of addiction.
A person who is prescribed opioids over time can build a tolerance to the drug. Their body’s production of endorphins slows, lessening the impact of the same dosage of the drug. Tolerance develops because the brain cells with opioid receptors stop responding to the drug in the same way. Once they have a tolerance for the drug, they need more to get the same pleasurable feeling. Doctors know how addictive opioids are and the dangers of long-term use. Most won’t renew prescriptions or increase dosages due to the potential for opiate addiction.
This is the point where many people who take prescription opioids begin looking for other sources. During the early stages of opioid abuse, the drug’s stimulation of the reward center is the primary reason the person takes more and increasingly frequent dosages of the drug. Over time, due to the changes to the chemistry of the brain, the craving for the experience grows into a compulsion. Tolerance develops further, leading them to search out more of the drug. Once dependency occurs, stopping or reducing the drug will cause withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms differ from one person to the next because the drug affects their brains differently. Different types of drugs also determine what type and degree of withdrawal symptoms they experience.
Opioid Risk Factors
Everyone who uses opioids doesn’t have the same risk of developing an addiction. Taking them differently than prescribed makes them more addictive. That doesn’t mean just taking them at different times. Crushing pills to snort or inject them makes them more powerful and dangerous.
If you take the drug for more than a few days, you have an increased risk of developing an addiction. Your risks increase once you reach the five-day mark. That’s how addictive these drugs are!
Women are at a higher risk of addiction because they are more likely to experience chronic pain. They are also more likely to receive higher doses for longer periods of time. Other risk factors include a long list of environmental, genetic, and psychological factors. People without jobs or who live in poverty are more likely to abuse opioids. So are those with a personal or family history of substance abuse.
Prescription Vs Street Drugs
Once the person develops an addiction to opioids, their prescription use often comes to an end. The compulsion to get the drug is so strong, they often turn to illegal means. For some, this means doctor shopping to get more prescriptions from various sources. Once the compulsion for the drug kicks in, some people will injure themselves to obtain opioid prescriptions.
Sometimes people steal their friend’s or family member’s prescriptions. The compulsion to use the drug is stronger than their compassion for the person with a legitimate prescription. When someone steals a person’s drugs, that individual will probably have to do without needed pain medication until the next prescription is due.
Prescription opioids pose a serious threat of addiction and overdose. But street drugs offer a much broader threat. There is zero quality control to ensure that the drugs contain the primary ingredient and nothing else. Increasingly, drug dealers are cutting drugs with stronger opioids like fentanyl. The drug is cheaper and easier to obtain, making it a more profitable ingredient for them to use. Some dealers also use the powerful drug to boost their product as a ‘super drug.’ Something stronger is just what a person with an opiate addiction wants.
In some areas, drugs being sold as heroin are almost entirely made from fentanyl. This factor contributes to the high number of overdose deaths caused by the opioid. Many people take it without ever realizing what it is.
How People Get Street Drugs
The average non-drug user doesn’t have connections to get illicit drugs. Where, then, do people get illegal opioids once they develop an addiction? It’s much easier than most of us think!
The majority of illegal drugs aren’t made domestically as many people believe. Nearly 100% of the heroin used in the US comes from foreign countries, primarily China and Mexico. The same is true for about 95% of the fentanyl. Since fentanyl is so much stronger than other opioids, dealers in other countries can ship it in smaller packages. Once the opioids arrive in the US, the recipient diverts them into the black market. That means that the drug dealer on the street corner is actually selling a drug that was synthesized in another country.
Every person with an opiate addiction doesn’t buy from the dealer on the corner. Many buy them directly from sellers on the Internet. Finding sources from around the globe is as simple as Googling things like “opioids for sale” or “fentanyl for sale.” Like any other type of search, the results include pages of advertisements providing resources where the drugs are sold. In some cases, the sellers try to persuade potential buyers to purchase more powerful opioids like fentanyl or carfentanil.
Carfentanil doesn’t usually lead to an opiate addiction. The drug is so powerful that a dosage the size of a grain of salt can lead to an overdose and death. Even those people who have developed a tolerance to other opioids can’t handle the powerful impact of this drug.
Depending on the particular seller, patrons can make payments using prepaid credit cards, PayPal, Western Union transfers, or Bitcoin. Once the purchase is made, the buyer receives their package of drugs from around the world in their mailbox or at their front door.
Historically, people involved in drug trafficking have been very flexible. Those in other countries respond to certain drug bans by making derivatives that aren’t included in the bans. When shipping becomes suspect in certain locations, they simply divert their shipping routes.
Another way people get access to opioids is through social media. Most of us use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to share messages and photos with our friends. It isn’t uncommon to have hundreds of contacts on any of these or other popular social media sites. A quick search for new contacts is often all it takes to find someone to supply the drug of choice.
The advertisements and usernames like “ISellDrugs” seem unbelievably bold. But most use a special messaging app called Kik to help keep them anonymous. The app is a freeware instant messaging mobile app that uses the smartphone’s data plan or Wi-Fi to receive and send messages. Users register without a phone number so no one can trace them when they send out mobile webpages, photos, and messages.
Buyers send payments for the drugs via wire transfer and the seller ships them out. And, yes, some do send parcels by FedEx, UPS, and the US Postal Service. Many prefer the latter because, unlike other carriers, the post office isn’t required to collect advanced electronic data about the shipper or the contents of a package. That helps them retain anonymity that might come into question when using a different carrier.
Fighting Opiate Addiction in the United States
Opiates cause a powerful, compulsive urge to use more drugs. Getting treatment early on gives the person the best chance for recovery. The fact is that there are very successful treatments available for opioid addiction today. The problem is that most people can’t overcome the compulsion to use as long as the drug is still available to them.
In spite of the impact of the opioid crisis, the current administration is doing little to make things better. Short of declaring the opioid crisis in America as a “Health Emergency” no further steps have been taken to improve the situation.
If the majority of opioids were being made domestically, cracking down on their abuse would be virtually impossible. There is always a new drug, a new seller, and a new crisis waiting to happen. But the fact that nearly all of these drugs come from other countries shifts the primary goal in a different direction. We need to control the transport of drugs into the United States. If the drugs never reach our borders, it would have a tremendous impact on opiate addiction in our country almost immediately.
How to Avoid Opioid Addiction
Sometimes illness or injuries cause pain. When the pain is acute, or short-term, opioids are a good solution for treatment. When pain is chronic, or long-term, other types of painkillers are best.
Work with your doctor to get the best pain management drugs for your needs. You should never take opioids for more than a few days. Take the lowest possible dosage to get relief and take them as instructed. Take control of your pain instead of letting it take control of you.
Keep your opioid medications secure so that other family members or friends don’t have access to them. Anyone is vulnerable to opioid addiction to some degree. The best time to tackle addiction is before it ever happens.
Know your risk factors. If you or anyone in your family has ever had a substance abuse problem, discuss it with your doctor. If you have a history of severe depression or anxiety, or you’ve ever gone through alcohol or drug rehab, opioids aren’t the best choice for your treatment.
Opiate addiction doesn’t go away by itself. It grows stronger every time you use the drug. Trying to stop taking the drug on your own is even more dangerous. Withdrawal symptoms can be severe and even life-threatening. A rehab center offering medically assisted recovery can help minimize withdrawal symptoms.
If you or a loved one has an opiate addiction, contact Recovery Oasis today to schedule an appointment. We offer withdrawal stabilization and maintenance for heroin, prescription drugs, and other opiates. Same day appointments are often available. We are here to help you or a loved one start the journey to a life without addiction.