Why are opioids in the news so much these days? And what’s the difference between opiates and opioids? Opioids and opiates are generating a lot of headlines due to the mounting publicity around the sky-rocketing addiction and overdose rates linked to legally prescribed medications, most notably in the USA but also in Australia, the UK and around the world. President Trump has declared the US ‘opioid crisis’, as it’s become known, a “public health emergency’’ and spoke of the “the worst drug crisis in American history”. The Federal Drug Administration, meanwhile, reports that over the last six years, the number of overdose deaths from opiates and opioids is higher than from guns, car accidents, murder and suicide combined. Thankfully though, opiate addiction treatment centres are offering hope to those battling addiction. But do you need to go for opiate/opioid rehab? Let’s learn more about these drugs and the way out of addiction.
The history of opiates and opioidsTraditionally, Opiates were drugs derived from the sap and fibres of opium poppies. They’ve been used since prehistoric times in many cultures. It’s even a common name in Afghanistan. A lot of boys have the name ‘Redey’ which in the Pashto language means ‘poppy’. ‘ The word ‘redey’ is derived from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘heart-pleasing’, ‘magical’ or ‘medicinal’. Most of the world’s supply of opium still comes from the upper Asian belt – which is Burma, Pakistan, Northern India and Afghanistan. Mesopotamian Sumerians cultivated the first opium poppies, and called them ‘hul gil’, which translates to ‘the joy plant’. It found use in many civilisations over the centuries, including the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Egyptians and Cyprians. It was also traded by the Phoenicians and Minoans to places in Europe, Carthage and Greece. The ancients believed that poppies had healing and magical powers and used opium in both. They were even used as sleep potions for crying babies. The main difference between poppy seeds harvested for food and poppy seeds harvested for opium is this – mineral rich poppy seeds used for baking and cooking are harvested after the seed pod is dry, while opium is harvested while the seed pod is still green and flowing with latex. Opium found use in medicine in the 18th century as a safer replacement for mercuries, arsenics, and other chemicals in treating coughs, tuberculosis, insomnia, rheumatism, depression and many other ailments. Over time, users discovered the euphoric effects of opium and started using them for recreational purposes.
What is an opiate?Opiates are drugs derived directly from natural opium poppies. Opiates work on the brain’s receptors to slow down psychological pain and physical functions by binding to the receptors to reduce GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric acid) levels and increase dopamine levels. So they are a natural pain reliever and sedative. Common examples of opiates include morphine, codeine, opium and heroin. Opiates may be prescribed by doctors and therapists at hospitals and in opiate rehab centres as medication during the course of detox treatment. However, although opiates are generally prescribed as medication, they are highly addictive. Some patients can grow dependent on these drugs and continue using them illicitly once their medical treatment has stopped. Some individuals may fake pain or continued illness to get their doctors to prescribe more medication.
What is an opioid?An opioid used to refer to a synthetically produced derivative of opium that bound the brain’s receptors and dulled pain while causing addictive and dependant behaviours. Nowadays, however, the term opioid has broadened to include derivatives of opium that are produced naturally as well as synthetically. So opiates now come under the umbrella term ‘opioid’ – but not all opioids are opiates. Some of the opioids now on the market include: