We hear it on the news and read it in the headlines. Opiate crisis, or is it an opioid crisis? In the drug-filled world we live in, opiate or opioid addiction is sweeping through the nation, destroying lives and causing overdoses. The story begins a long ago when people discovered that opium was an analgesic. People took it on a regular basis. They used it to help people sleep, relieve pain, and some used it to calm crying children.
Opium comes from the pod of the Opium poppy flower (Papaver somniferum) after the bloom. The seedpods give a milky white substance that thickens and changes colour when exposed to air. From this raw opium can be obtained other drugs such as morphine and codeine. Opium and the other drugs obtained from the flower bud are called opiates. It is a naturally occurring substance.
People use both opiates and opioids indiscriminately in today’s society, making it more difficult to know the difference. We have all heard of OxyContin, hydrocodone, fentanyl, Percodan, Hydromorphone (Dilaudid®) and methadone; these are opioids. Opioids are synthetic or partly synthetic substances created or altered chemically by man. These have the same effect as opiates in the human body because of their similarity but in great part are more potent.
An example of a partly synthetic drug is heroin. In 1874, Alder Wright, an English chemist, was the first person to synthesize diamorphine (heroin). He changed the structure of morphine by adding a process. The first commercialization of it was in 1898 by the Bayer company. Other semi-synthetic opioids include hydromorphone, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. Fentanyl, pethidine (Demerol), levorphanol, methadone, tramadol, and dextropropoxyphene are fully synthetic opioids. Opioids are potent and effective pain relievers, but most have a high potential for dependency and abuse.
Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency helpline if you think someone is overdosing. If it’s available, give the person naloxone. Naloxone can temporarily reverse an overdose when administered immediately. But this medication is not an end-all for overdoses and is just a temporary fix while you wait for the paramedics. Naloxone can wear off before the person recovers from their overdose. An overdose is always an emergency. Always call for help.
The signs of addiction are not always that clear. Monitoring the person’s use is advisable. But if you are uncertain, call an expert in the matter. Our counsellors are standing by to help.