You may have heard of something called the "opiate crisis" on the news in the past few years, but what exactly is this crisis, and how is it affecting Americans?
What are opiates?
Opiates are a class of drugs that have been used for thousands of years, originally derived from the poppy plant. Many opiates are created synthetically, for medicinal purposes, while others are classified as illegal. Every opiate shares one thing - they all depress the body's central nervous system.
Opiates are often used in medical settings as pain relievers, and doctors will prescribe them for those who suffer from chronic pain, or are recovering from surgery. Even though opiates do have a medical use, they are often used illegally to get high, and are often snorted or injected, resulting in a dangerous slowing of the body's natural systems.
Common opiates include:
Opiate addiction and abuse
Opiate addiction is one of the most extreme drug problems in the US today, with estimates reaching more than two million users in 2015. Still, millions of opiate prescriptions are written up every year, and obtaining heroin on the streets is more common than ever. The Center for Disease Control notes that studies show that up to three out of every four heroin users were previously prescription opiate abusers.
When a person becomes addicted to heroin, they build up a tolerance to the effects of the drug, so they need to use more and more in order to get the same feelings. This results in a higher risk of overdose, which could lead to death. Even when used under the care of a doctor, opiates are highly addictive, and many users continue to seek opiates after their prescription expires. This leads to drug purchases on the street, where the strength and purity of the drug are not controlled. Every dose is different, and just one can be too much for the body to handle.
What are some of the symptoms of opiate usage?
Opiate usage slows down the central nervous system, which in turn slows breathing and heart rate, and lowers body temperature and blood pressure. In addition, it produces a feeling of extreme pleasure and euphoria, which leads people to keep using it. Some other signs and symptoms of someone using opiates are:
- Sleepiness, drowsiness, or intermittently losing consciousness
- Noticeable euphoria
In addition, the behaviors of an addict may change as well. For example, an addict might always be on the hunt for a new doctor to prescribe pain killers, or may suddenly be in financial distress due to spending all their money on drugs. You may notice the person withdraw from social interactions and quickly change moods if their drug supply is running low.