In the short-term opiates are quite effective at reducing pain signals in the brain. The opiates do this by binding with proteins or opioid receptors on nerve cells found in the stomach, brain and along the spinal cord. It works brilliantly because it works with the body and brain’s neurotransmission system. Of course, something this good for temporary pain relief comes with a bit of baggage, as you’ve probably learned by now.
After all, our terrible opioid crisis has been all over the news in recent years. According to CNN; “An estimated 10.3 million Americans misused opioids in 2018, including 9.9 million prescription pain reliever abusers and 808,000 heroin users.” According to the CDC, 80 people die every day due to prescribed drugs, and over the last decade, 500,000 people have perished.
It’s important to understand the seriousness of the situation if we are to solve the problem. It turns out that there has been some success in treating opioid addiction and opiate dependency. Generally speaking, you have to treat each person individually based on their situation and their unique circumstances whether it was prescription opiates or illicit opioids or both, which is quite common by the time they finally come in for treatment. Let’s spend a few minutes and discuss all this, but first, let’s get some terminology straight.
Are Opiates and Opioids the Same Thing?
Ever wonder what the difference is between opiates and opioids? Well, you are not alone, it confuses everyone. You see opiates are natural compounds that have a mind-altering effect on our brains. These compounds are found in opium. Opiates are derived from opium and they affect the opioid receptors in the brain, so they are also called opioids. The reason everyone gets confused is that both terms are used interchangeably.
Now there are semi-synthetic compounds made from the natural opiate compounds, and since they also affect the brain’s opioid receptors, they too are called opioids. Lately, with the opioid crisis the media, politicians, and the CDC has been referring to them as opioids. Thus, Morphine, Codeine, Thebaine, Heroin, Oxymorphone, Hydrocodone, and Hydromorphone are all opiates and also considered opioids. Essentially, opioids and opiates are the same thing, at least they are used that way.
Because there is so much talk about opioids most people use that term instead of opiates, however many doctors still use the term ‘opiates’ especially those who’ve been in practice a while. Even in the rehab and addiction treatment sector, the term ‘opioid’ seems to be winning out.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Opiate Use?
Some of the long-term effects of opiate or opioid use include addiction or dependency, permanent brain damage, compromised immune system, and serious liver damage. Heroin can cause gangrene in your intestines and kidney failure, and everything health-wise goes downhill from there. Long-term use can also cause worsened pain. Wait, I thought opiates reduced pain. Yes, but if you use them too long the pain gets worse.
You see, the pain relief is transient and the pain may actually get worse when taking prescription opioids long-term. Those who have a history of being prescribed opioids will over time become more sensitized to pain, it’s a phenomenon called “Allodynia” where the stimuli that aren’t normally affected now causes pain. This is something we will be discussing in an upcoming Blog Article in more detail.
If you are taking opioid prescriptions you are more likely to get sick because they interfere with and can compromise your immune system. The longer you take them, the more challenged your immune system becomes.
Opiates can cause severe depression if taken for over a month, and depending on the dosage this problem can only get worse.
Prescription opiate dependency can set in as early as 5-days if not taken correctly or in too high a dosage. So, whereas opiates may have a place in the medical arsenal for pain relief opioids should be taken carefully and the prescription followed exactly.
Even if taken in low doses and as prescribed, much over 4-weeks and you begin to risk addiction and dependency. It takes a lot of treatment and therapy to get back to normal. The point being, these powerful drugs work well for their intended purpose, but once you abuse them, there can be hell to pay. Likewise, even if you follow all the directions, you can still become dependent in the short and/or long-term.
Now when it comes to heroin, the story is much different as Heroin is extremely addictive, in fact for some people just a one-time use can create an addiction for life, and it is sure to cause severe brain damage. The drug can literally eat your brain, and those who have brain damage from heroin can compare that damage to those with early Alzheimer’s.
A Dire Warning for Women with Opiate Dependency
If you are a woman who’s been prescribed opiates for pain relief and you are pregnant or nursing a new baby it can cause devastating consequences. Opioids during pregnancy can be a disaster. In the 1990s pain-killer prescriptions soared and they were the go-to prescription for C-section short-term pain relief. One in every 300 women who had taken opioids after c-section became addicted.
Opiates make it into the breast milk and can cause babies to be hyperactive. If you are pregnant and taking opiates the baby could be born with terrible withdrawal symptoms. This leads to brain development challenges and long-term health problems for the newborn.
There Is Hope for Opioid Addiction
Recovery from opiate dependency can be achieved if treated early. Of course, the longer it goes on, the more permanent damage to your health and brain. There will be a point at which you will never be the same again even if you are no longer dependent. It’s just so important to tackle this early on, denial or procrastination is not a wise or viable option. Things will only get worse.
If you or a family member has a problem with opiates or opioids, let’s talk. Let’s take a look at the entire situation and develop a winning treatment plan. One that saves your health and gives you your life back. We are here for you. We will always be here for you.