Opioids - What They Are
Opioids – What they are
Opioids are a group of drugs that include prescription pain killers and heroin. They are either derived from, or chemically similar to, compounds found in opium poppies. Some opioids, like heroin, are illegal. But some are prescribed legally by doctors to treat pain. Opioids include legal prescription pain killers like oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), morphine, codeine, fentanyl, and others. Heroin, which is illegal, is also an opioid. Some slang terms for prescription opioids are OCs, Oxy, perks, and vics. Slang terms for heroin include smack, junk, black tar, and horse.
How do they work?
These drugs are similar to other chemicals in our bodies that attach to opioid receptors which are found in our brains. Opioid drugs bond to these receptors throughout the nervous system, and this process can have three main effects:
- It decreases feelings of pain
- It creates feelings of pleasure and relaxation
- It slows automatic processes in our body like breathing
Naloxone (Narcan) – A life-saving antidote
Naloxone is a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose in minutes. Naloxone must be introduced to the body relatively quickly, as death from an overdose may occur within one to three hours of opioid ingestion. It’s only meant to be a first line of defense during an overdose, because its antidote effect will wear off in 20–90 minutes. So naloxone really just buys time for the victim until they can be treated more thoroughly by licensed medical professionals. It may even need to be administered a second time if the victim stops breathing again.
CT Good Samaritan Law
The Good Samaritan Law (CGS § 52-557b) provides immunity from civil damages for acts of ordinary negligence in connection with the rendering of emergency medical service by specified individuals under certain circumstances. The
immunity does not apply to gross, willful, or wanton negligence.
Side Effects and Misuse
What are the side effects of taking them as prescribed?
Besides the risk of addiction and misuse, using opioids as directed by your doctor can have many other side effects, including: Dizziness, Constipation, and Nausea. Opioids can be dangerous when taken with alcohol or with drugs such as some antidepressants, some antibiotics and sleeping pills. Make sure your doctor knows all the medications you are taking including prescription drugs, over-the counter drugs and herbal supplements.
What are the effects of misusing opioids?
When someone is misusing opioids, that means they’re taking prescription Opioids without a prescription, taking the wrong dosage of prescribed opioids, or using illicit opioids.
This misuse creates intense feelings of euphoria. Long-term opioid misuse often leads to addiction: uncontrollable drug-seeking, no matter the consequences, damaged relationship, increased mental health complaints, increased physical health complaints, risk of overdose, hazardous withdrawals, or death.
What happens when someone overdoses on opioids?
An opioid overdose can do permanent brain or nerve damage, and can be fatal. Signs that someone is overdosing on opioids include:
- Shallow breathing, or no breathing at all
- Blue or grey lips or fingertips
- Floppy arms or legs
- Snoring or gurgling
- The heart rate slows down, too
- Unresponsive, can’t be woken up
Myths and Facts
Myths and Facts
Myth #1: Opioids are the most effective drugs for chronic pain.
Fact: Opioids may be the worst drugs for chronic pain. While patients become tolerant to the painkilling effects, they don’t become tolerant to the adverse effects. Long-term use of opioids increases the risk of addiction, respiratory arrest and cardiovascular death. We have many effective, underused, and inexpensive non-opioid medications, including ibuprofen, acetaminophen, diclofenac, ketorolac, lidocaine, capsaicin, gabapentin, low-dose antidepressants and many others. Studies show that exercise, spinal manipulative therapies, acupuncture and transcutaneous electrical stimulation are all helpful for chronic pain.
Myth #2: Addiction to prescribed opioids occurs only in patients who are already addicts.
Fact: Even people with no personal or family history of addiction can and have become addicted through a doctor’s prescription. Once addicted to prescription opioids, patients may eventually become heroin users. Nine of 10 patients in treatment for opioid addiction turned to heroin as a cheaper, more readily available drug than prescription opioids, according to a report in the JAMA - Psychiatry. Another study found that 4 of 5 heroin users reported that their opioid use began with opioid painkillers.
Myth #3: You Cannot Be Addicted to a Prescribed Medication
Fact: It’s common to assume that if your doctor prescribes you a medication, it is completely safe and non-addictive. Unfortunately, this is not true. Many prescribed medications are highly potent and have the potential for abuse and addiction.
Dangers of Believing the Myths
Myths will always exist, especially among emotional and confusing topics like addiction.
Treating myth as reality and allowing it to influence your beliefs and actions can lead to dangerous outcomes.
Seeking the best information from reputable sources will keep you and the people you care about safe.
The HCC Library offers a variety of books on the subject of opioid abuse and are available for your use. Visit the library today for a current list of offerings.
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