Fields of poppies may inspire artists with their beauty, but the opium poppy flower inspires a more sinister condition: addiction.

Poppy flowers produce opium, which is synthesized to produce a variety of drugs, including heroin.Used properly, opiate drugs offer pain relief and opiate-based medications help people recover from surgeries or deal with severe pain. But, misuse brings a high risk of addiction. Opiates are among the strongest drugs available, and opiate addiction occurs rapidly in some people.[1]

Defining Opiates

The medical profession places medications into groups, based on the effects they have on people. The opiate group contains drugs both naturally and synthetically derived from the poppy plant.

Examples include:

  • Codeine
  • Morphine
  • Methadone
  • Heroin
  • Oxycodone
  • Both drug companies and illicit drug producers use opium from poppies to create a variety of drugs, offering different levels of pain relief. Codeine, for example, a milder component of opium is used in cough medicines, while thebaine, another component of opium, is used to make the powerful pain reliever oxycodone.[2]

    Opiate Addiction

    All opiates function within the body in much the same way. The drugs cross into the bloodstream and seek out specific receptors, like a magnet looking for metal. When the drug finds the receptors, it binds to them and the connection causes a series of chemical chain reactions. A person begins to feel calm, relaxed and happy, and pain or discomfort eases. Some people report a sudden, transcendent feeling of happiness, or a high that lasts for a few moments. Breathing may slow, and soon, the person feels extremely sleepy. All of these symptoms are hallmarks of opiate use.[3]

    Defining Addiction

    An opiate addiction doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, most people addicted to opiates move through a series of definable steps.

    These steps include the following:

    Experimental use. Most people begin taking the drug on occasion, and they use it for fun.

    Regular use. Soon, the person uses drugs more often, and may use them to help deal with negative feelings. The use stops being fun and starts to seem necessary.

    Daily use. The user begins to feel the drug is more important than anything else, including friends, family, work or other obligations.

    Addiction. The person cannot imagine living without the drug.

    Drug overdoseIn other words, an addiction to opiates may begin with someone taking the drug on occasion, on a whim, and then slowly the addiction begins to define the person’s day. The addict moves from choosing to use the drug to being compelled to use the drug. Family relationships suffer as the addict breaks most, if not all, ties in order to focus exclusively on the drug use.[4]

    At first glance, some of the steps toward addiction seem driven entirely by behavior. It might seem reasonable that a person chooses opiates over other people, and he could choose to act in a different way. When it comes to opiate addiction, however, the source of addiction isn’t limited to simple behavior. Opiates create a chain reaction in the brain, and those reactions make it harder for someone to stop using the drugs. In other words, addiction changes the brain making a person act in a different way because a new chemical balance drives his behavior.[5]

    Chemical Changes

    The body continually monitors its chemical levels and adjusts its production to manage chemicals accordingly. People who use high amounts of opiates for a long period of time create a battle within their own bodies. They’re trying to flood their bodies with chemicals, and their bodies are reducing the amount of chemicals they make in response, to keep the system balanced. As a result, the addict may need to take higher and higher doses of opiates to feel the same level of response.

    People addicted to opiates, for example, may survive 10 times the dose that would kill a person who does not use opiates. They have chemically altered their bodies for so long, they must take excessive doses of opiates to feel their effects.[6]

    To complicate matters further, the addict’s body may stop making certain chemicals altogether. Commonly, for example, the body makes its own version of opiates to reduce pain and improve mental functioning. When a person stops taking opiates, he may discover his body no longer produces natural opiates. This is a symptom of opiate withdrawal and includes a variety of symptoms, including:

    • Depression
    • Nausea
    • Sweating with chills
    • Involuntary movements of the legs

    Medical professionals compare these symptoms to a severe flu and they disappear within a few days. But, throughout those days, the addict also deals with a longing for opiates. These cravings are powerful, and when the addict is weak and in pain, the cravings are too difficult to ignore, forcing the addict to use once more. Someone who gets professional addiction treatment gets help with the intense cravings of opiate withdrawal and often receives medication to alleviate physical symptoms and drug cravings.[7]

    Treatment for Opiate Addiction

    People who use opiates face a significant risk of overdose. As mentioned, addicts use high doses on a regular basis. When they’re buying drugs on the street, however, it’s difficult to determine the strength of the drugs.

    Drug deal going downFor example, a man may always buy from the same dealer and inject a gram of heroin each time. He doesn’t know his dealer cuts the heroin with sugar, so it’s only 50 percent potent. When the man buys from another dealer, who doesn’t cut the heroin, and injects the same amount, he takes a dose at 100 percent potency. In such a case, he overdoses. He either gets immediate medical attention or he dies.

    Heroin is a major cause of overdose deaths. Opioids, for example, accounted for 33,091 deaths in 2015, four times the number of deaths in 1999. Even though many people attempt to get medical help for a heroin overdose, it still leads to high death rates.[8]

    In addition to the real and persistent risk of overdose, people who use opiates are at risk of contracting HIV and developing AIDS. In the past, researchers thought this risk existed because people were sharing needles and drug paraphernalia while they were on opiates, but now, researchers suggest that people engage in risky sexual behaviors while they’re under the influence, and these behaviors cause infection. In fact, around 64 percent of people who received treatment for HIV/AIDS between the years of 2005 and 2009 used an illicit drug, but none injected the drug.

    In other words, the link between drug use and infection persists, even when people aren’t using or sharing needles. While it’s true that HIV/AIDS is successfully treated with medications, people addicted to opiates may not seek out medical help or screenings for the diseases, which means they go undetected for years, allowing the addict to spread the diseases to others.[9]

    Dealing With an Addiction

    Some suggest addiction occurs due to the influence of genetics. While it’s true addictions pass down through families, people should not assume there is no effective treatment for addiction. Medication therapies, combined with effective counseling sessions, help addicts leave the addiction behind. It might take years of work, and the addict may need some form of medication-assisted therapy, but recovery is within reach.[10]

    At Michael’s House, we’ve helped hundreds of people overcome their opiate addictions. We tailor our approaches to meet the needs of our patients, and we work hard to make sure that our clients are comfortable throughout treatment. We hope you’ll call today to find out more.


    Sources

    [1] Drug Enforcement Administration. (n.d.). Opium. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from https://www.dea.gov/druginfo/drug_data_sheets/Opium.pdf.

    [2] DEA Museum & Visitors Center. (n.d.). Cannabis, Coca, & Poppy: Nature’s Addictive Plants. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from https://www.deamuseum.org/ccp/opium/history.html.

    [3] National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). (2015). Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-over-counter-medications.

    [4] Kosten, T. R., & George, T. P. (2002). The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment. Science & Practice Perspectives. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2851054/.

    [5] NIDA (2016). Understanding Drug Use and Addiction. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-use-addiction.

    [6] Bedford, Keith & Wansbrough, Heather. (1991). Opiate Chemistry and Metabolism. New Zealand Institute of Chemistry. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from http://nzic.org.nz/ChemProcesses/biotech/12C.pdf.

    [7] Heller, Jacob L. (2016). Opiate and opioid withdrawal. MedlinePlus. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm.

    [8] Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. (2016). Drug Overdose Death Data. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/statedeaths.html.

    [9] NIDA (2017). Drug Use and Viral Infections (HIV, Hepatitis). Retrieved May 1, 2017 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/drug-use-viral-infections-hiv-hepatitis.

    [10] Ball, David. (2007). Addiction science and its genetics. Addiction. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1360-0443.2007.02061.x/full.

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