More than 130 people die every day from opioid overdose in the U.S.
Opioids are an umbrella class that covers drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant. Some of today’s opioids are still directly made from the plant while others are made synthetically in a lab using the same chemical structure. The opioid drug class includes prescription painkillers as well as heroin.
Common Prescription Opioids:
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
- Oxycodone (Oxycontin, Percocet)
Prescription opioids are generally used to treat pain. However, they’re often misused for the relaxed high that they produce. Misuse is incredibly dangerous as opioids are highly addictive and can easily lead to opioid addiction, overdose, and death.
What Does It Mean To Misuse Prescription Opioids?
Simply put, misusing prescription opioids means using them in any way that varies from the prescription guidelines. It’s a slippery slope from misuse to opioid addiction.
- Taking the medication in a dose other than prescribed (i.e. taking more than prescribed)
- Taking the medication in a way other than prescribed (i.e. crushing and snorting pills)
- Taking someone else’s prescription medication
- Taking the medication for the “high” effect it produces
Heroin is a synthetic opioid made from morphine. It’s one of the most dangerous and addictive drugs to exist. Of the 13.5 million people in the world who use opioids, over 9 million struggle with an opioid addiction ruled by heroin.
How Addictive is Heroin?
Heroin is one of the most addictive substances because of the way it hijacks the brain’s pleasure and reward center. When someone uses heroin, the drug triggers the brain to release a variety of pleasure chemicals — primarily dopamine. However, dopamine levels can become depleted after too much exploitation. Eventually, a user’s brain won’t be able to produce any significant amount of dopamine without the drug. Soon, using becomes the only way for an addict to feel pleasure. And then, eventually, it’s the only way for the addict to feel anything besides depression.
About 80% of people who use heroin misused prescription opioids first.
Like heroin, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. The drug boasts an incredible, dangerous potency; it’s 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
Fentanyl can be prescribed legally by a doctor as a painkiller, generally for patients who don’t respond to other pain medications. It’s also made and used illegally on the streets. Street names for fentanyl include Apache, China Girl, China White, Jackpot, and Murder 8.
How Dangerous is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl has garnered a lot of attention recently, as it’s commonly mixed with other addictive substances (cocaine, meth, etc.) and causing severe and fatal effects. When mixed with other illicit street drugs, there is no way to monitor the potency, which has led to a huge spike in fatal overdoses.
Synthetic opioids like fentanyl are currently the most common drugs involved in fatal overdoses in the United States. Overdose deaths involving fentanyl rose from 14% in 2010 to 60% in 2017.