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What is an opiate?

An opiate is a narcotic analgesic that directly depresses the central nervous system. Natural opiates are derived from the dried "milk" of the opium poppy, while synthetic opiates are manufactured in chemical laboratories with a similar chemical structure. Natural and synthetic opiates are collectively known as opioids. The most commonly abused opioid is heroin.


How do opioids work?

Opioids attach to specific proteins called opioid receptors, which are found in the brain, spinal cord, and gastrointestinal tract. When the drugs attach to certain opioid receptors, they block the transmission of pain messages to the brain. Opioids tend to induce euphoria by affecting the brain regions that mediate pleasure. Users generally report feeling warm, drowsy, and content. Opioids relieve stress and discomfort by creating a relaxed detachment from pain, desires, and activity. Opioids also tend to produce drowsiness, reduce heart rate, cause constipation, cause a widening of blood vessels, and depress coughing and breathing reflexes.


How are opioids used?

Many opioids are prescribed for their analgesic, or pain-relieving, properties. Morphine, codeine, and related drugs that fall within this class are sometimes referred to as narcotics. Morphine is often used before or after surgery to alleviate severe pain. Codeine is used for milder pain. Other examples of opioids that can be prescribed to alleviate pain include oxycodone (OxyContin), propoxyphene (Darvon), hydrocodone (Vicodin), hydromorphone (Dilaudid), and meperidine (Demerol). In addition to their pain-relieving properties, some opioids - for example, codeine and diphenoxylate (Lomotil) - are used to relieve coughs and diarrhea.


What are some common opioids?

The most common opiods are opium, codeine, morphine, fentanyl, OxyContin, and heroin.

Opium is the dried milky juice of the unripe seedpods of the opium poppy. The chief constituents of opium are the alkaloids codeine, papaverine, noscapine, and morphine, from which heroin is synthesized. Opium is also known as laudanum, paregoric, big O, black stuff, block, gum, and hop.

Codeine is an alkaloid narcotic derived from opium. It is prescribed as an analgesic, cough suppressant, and hypnotic. Codeine can also be referred to as Empirin with Codeine, Fiorinal with Codeine, Robitussin A-C, Tylenol with Codeine, Captain Cody, pancakes and syrup, schoolboy, and loads.

Morphine is also derived from the seedpods of the opium poppy. It can also be referred to as Roxanol, Duramorph, M, Miss Emma, monkey, and white stuff.

Fentanyl is a synthetic prescription narcotic 50 times more potent than heroin. It is often used as an analgesic in surgical procedures because of its minimal effects on the heart. Fentanyl can be injected, smoked, or snorted. It is also known as Duragesic, Sublimaze, Actiq, China White, China Girl, TNT, Apache, and dance fever.

OxyContin (oxycodone) is a semi-synthetic opioid analgesic prescribed for chronic long-lasting pain. It contains between 10 and 160 milligrams of oxycodone in a timed-release tablet, providing several hours of relief from chronic pain. OxyContin abusers crush the tablet and either ingest or snort it, or they dissolve it in water and inject it. Crushing or diluting the tablet disarms the time-release action of the medication and causes a quick, powerful high. On the street, OxyContin is often referred to as Oxy, O.C., and killer.

Heroin is the most commonly used opioid.


What is heroin?

Heroin is the most abused and most rapidly acting of the opioids. Processed from morphine and originally used to cure people of morphine addiction, this substance is typically sold as a white or brownish powder or as a black sticky substance known on the street as "black tar" heroin. Most street heroin is "cut" with other drugs or with substances such as sugar, starch, powdered milk, or quinine. Street heroin can also be cut with strychnine or other poisons.


How is heroin used?

Heroin is typically injected, sniffed/snorted, or smoked. Typically, a heroin abuser may inject up to 4 times per day. Intravenous injection provides the greatest intensity and the most rapid onset of euphoria (7 to 8 seconds). Intramuscular injection produces a relatively slow onset of euphoria (5 to 8 minutes). When heroin is sniffed or smoked, peak effects are usually felt within 10 to 15 minutes.


How does heroin work?

In the brain, heroin is converted to morphine and binds rapidly to opioid receptors. Heroin is particularly addictive because it enters the brain so rapidly. The rush of the drug is usually accompanied by warm flushing of the skin, dry mouth, and a heavy feeling in the extremities; this rush may or may not be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and severe itching. After the initial effects of heroin have faded, abusers will be drowsy for several hours. Mental function is clouded by heroin's effect on the central nervous system. It also slows cardiac function and breathing.


What are some negative effects of heroin use?

Withdrawal from heroin can be extremely painful and sometimes deadly. Heroin is both psychologically and physically addictive. Withdrawal effects of heroin appear within a few hours after the last dose, reach peak intensity in 24 to 48 hours, and usually subside within 72 hours. During withdrawal, the addict experiences anxiety, restlessness, generalized body aches, insomnia, yawning, tearing from the eyes, runny nose, perspiration, dilation of the pupils, hot flashes, goose bumps, vomiting, dehydration, nausea, diarrhea, elevation of body temperature and respiratory rate, abdominal and other muscle cramps, and loss of body weight. Possible long-term effects of heroin and intravenous needle use include physical and psychological addiction, infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B and C, collapsed veins, bacterial infections, abscesses, infection of heart lining and valves, and arthritis and other rheumatological problems.


What are some other names for heroin?

Brown sugar, dope, H, horse, junk, smack, white horse, skunk, and skag are some common street names for heroin.