Painkillers are powerful drugs that come from the opium poppy. There are hundreds of painkillers in varying strengths and formulas — some provide instant relief and are short-acting, while others are meant for long-term use. All painkillers work in the same way in the brain, produce similar effects and are highly addictive.
History of Opiates
Opiate painkillers are drugs that contain morphine — the psychoactive component that occurs naturally in the opium poppy — or synthesized morphine as the active ingredient. For hundreds of years and in cultures around the world, people have relied on morphine from the opium poppy to relieve pain, reduce cough and stop diarrhea.
Before a German scientist discovered morphine in 1804, people used raw opium — a substance called laudanum — to soothe pain. Codeine, another opiate painkiller, was discovered in 1832. Today codeine is the most commonly prescribed drug in the world, and medical professionals consider morphine the gold standard of all painkillers.
Not all opium products are legal, however. Heroin, perhaps the most feared drug ever created, comes from the opium poppy and is even more powerful than morphine. In what may be the biggest mistake ever made in the pharmaceutical industry, Bayer inadvertently created heroin when it was actually trying to find a less potent and non-addictive form of codeine. Bayer called the new drug “heroin” and sold it as an antidote for morphine addiction.
It wasn’t long before the federal government declared heroin illegal, but by then the damage was already done. Other powerful opiates include drugs such as Fentanyl and Dilaudid.
All opiate painkillers are highly addictive, produce tolerance and physical dependency, and cause nearly intolerable withdrawal symptoms. Today’s opiates are even more powerful than the drugs created long ago. Opiates come in tablet, suppository, liquid, patch and injectable form.
Dangers of Opioids
Some drugs contain a blend of an opiate painkiller and an over-the-counter medicine such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. These partial synthetic drugs are called opioids.
While opioids are a class of drug that includes both partial synthetic formulations and natural opiates such as straight morphine, opiates only contain natural drugs. Although it might seem that opioids would be less dangerous than opiates, that isn’t true.
Many who overdose on opioid drugs actually die from the liver toxicity that results from the over-the-counter drug. Common opioids include Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet.
Opioids represent the worst substance abuse epidemic ever faced by America, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. More people visit the emergency room because of opioid overdose than traffic accidents — opioid ER visits rank second only to alcohol.
In addition most who suffer a fatal overdose do so after getting a pill from a family member or friend — in other words, the person who develops a severe physical dependency is less likely to overdose than the person who takes a couple Vicodin and has a few beers every once in a while. Like opiates, opioids come in a variety of forms.
Common Narcotic Painkillers
Narcotic painkillers are opiates and opioids (opiate-derivatives) that form their strength from the opium poppy. Heroin, although likely more feared than common legal narcotic painkillers, also comes from the opium poppy. Narcotic painkillers are prescribed for common ailments such as back pain, broken bones and more. Drugs include:
- Fentanyl (Duragesic)
- Percocet (oxycodone)
How Painkillers Work
The speed and power with which a painkiller works depends on the strength of the drug and the method of administration. Injecting the drug into the vein provides the strongest and fastest high, and it is also the fastest route to addiction and disease. Sometimes people chop a pill and snort the powder. In the case of heroin, it may also be smoked.
Once the painkiller enters the body it overrides how the brain manages the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a natural chemical produced by the brain that helps the body feel good. Painkillers release huge amounts of dopamine at once, which depletes the brain’s stores of the chemical but also provides an intense rush. Abusing a painkiller again and again causes significant changes in the brain, and these changes are what result in physical dependency and addiction.
Painkillers teach the brain that all it has to do to feel good is take drugs. Drug abuse negatively affects learning and memory at the same time it influences pleasure and reward. As abuse continues, the brain becomes tolerant of the drug’s effects. This forces the individual to take more and more drugs to achieve the same high.
Eventually the brain can’t manage the flow of feel-good chemicals without the painkiller. This combination of tolerance and dependence is why people who develop an addiction to painkillers must take huge quantities of pills simply to feel normal — quantities that would kill a non-addicted person.
Identifying Painkiller Abuse
Those who abuse painkillers demonstrate distinctive signs and symptoms. Although all painkillers produce certain side effects, people who abuse these drugs also suffer from worse side effects. The more a person abuses a painkiller, the harder it will be to quit. Keep in mind that a person who has been taking a painkiller for an extended period of time but who still feels the original pain symptoms may be dependent, but is not addicted.
If someone you care about is addicted to painkillers, you may observe:
- Getting multiple prescriptions just in case running out becomes a problem
- Denying that drug abuse is a problem
- Taking more than the prescribed dose more frequently than necessary
- Lying about or hiding how much drug use is going on
- Mood swings defined by deep relaxation and irritability or anxiety
- The onset of withdrawal symptoms, which resemble a severe flu, when no drugs are available
- Nodding off at unusual times
- Worsening problems with relationships, at work or with money
- Spending more time alone or with a new crowd
- Switching to a harder drug, such as heroin, because the painkiller became too expensive or getting another prescription wasn’t possible
Beating Prescription Drug Addiction
As the body begins relying on the narcotic painkiller, the original symptoms that caused the need for a prescription have often abated. Unfortunately, the person taking the drug is now addicted to it and suddenly withdrawing from use results in a host of uncomfortable and even painful symptoms. These symptoms are often so intense that the person rushes back to the drug to avoid the withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms include nausea and vomiting, cramps, depression and anxiety, irritability and mood swings, profuse sweating and chills.
If you read these symptoms with a sinking feeling, then you or someone you love might have a prescription painkillers addiction. The good news is that with professional painkiller addiction help, you or your loved one can make a full recovery to a sober, productive and pain-free lifestyle. At 12 Keys Rehab, we help people who are addicted to prescription drugs return to their formerly healthy lifestyles, even when they've tried rehab before.
If these signs and symptoms sound familiar, it’s time to get help. Recovering from painkiller abuse is challenging, but it is not impossible —12 Keys Rehab helps clients get sober every day. Whether your problem began with a legitimate prescription or you started abusing painkillers casually, 12 Keys Rehab can help.
Most addiction and medical experts agree that long-term individualized care provided in an inpatient setting offers people struggling with addiction the best treatment outcomes. Our staff will provide you with a comprehensive evaluation that will take into account all aspects of your addiction. We will design a recovery plan customized for your specific needs that uses a combination of behavioral and psychiatric therapies, 12 Step care, and engaging activities that will remind you how fun living life sober can be.
Don’t spend another minute trapped because of painkiller addiction. Call 12 Keys Rehab for more information and find your path to freedom, starting today.
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