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Posts Tagged ‘opioid addiction’

Understanding Opioid Receptors, The Opioid System, and the Risks for Opioid Addiction

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Understanding Opioid Receptors, The Opioid System, and the Risks for Opioid AddictionThe United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that around 2.1 million people in the United States are currently suffering from substance use disorders related to prescription opioids. Another nearly 500,000 are addicted to heroin, another opiate. Opioid addiction is, in the words of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a national epidemic. The CDC estimates that about 91 Americans die every day from opioid overdose. This is more than four times the number of opioid-related overdose deaths since 1999. To get to the bottom of the ongoing opioid problem in the U.S, one must first understand the brain’s opioid receptors and the opioid system.

Taking a Look at the Brain’s Opioid System

The opioid system is the part of the brain that controls feelings of pain, pleasure, and reward. It is also in charge of addictive behaviors. Neurons in the brain release a family of endogenous peptides, such as endorphin and dynorphins, during activities such as eating, sleeping, exercising, and sexual activity. These peptides activate opioid receptors in the brain, triggering the reward system and generating feelings of pleasure and happiness. The opioid system is the brain’s way of keeping the body alive – offering rewards for activities necessary to sustain life.

The opioid system contains three G protein-coupled receptors: mu, delta, and kappa. It is these three receptors that the release of peptides stimulates in the brain. Mu receptors trigger the brain’s reward system. Studies suggest that it is the mu-opioid receptor that initiates addictive behaviors. The delta receptor is in charge of emotional responses, such as depression and anxiety. These two receptors may hold the key to why people become addicted to opioid drugs – and how to stop addiction in the future.

How Opioids Work on the Brain

Taking a Look at the Brain's Opioid System

Opiates are any drugs naturally derived from the opium poppy. Opioids are the synthetic and semi-synthetic drugs that stem from modified opiate foundations. For the most part, however, people use the terms “opiate” and “opioid” interchangeably. Opioids are a category of drugs that act on the brain’s opioid receptors to create feelings of euphoria. They include morphine, heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and fentanyl. Opioids work by acting on the brain’s opioid receptors, activating them as the natural releases of peptides normally would. In this way, opioid drugs act as painkillers – and highly addictive recreational drugs.

When a person consumes opiates, they bind to the opioid receptors in the brain. This is possible because the chemical structure of opioids mimics that of the brain’s natural transmitters. Once attached, the drug blocks pain and slows down breathing, creating a clam and pleasant effect. The drugs do not activate the nerve cells the same way as natural transmitters – instead, they send abnormal messages through the brain’s opioid system. They flood the brain’s reward circuit with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates feelings of pleasure, emotion, motivation, and cognition. It is the overstimulation of the reward system that leads to the euphoric feelings, or “high,” of consuming opiates.

Understanding Opioid Addiction

After consuming opiates, the brain associates them with pleasure. Opiates trick the brain into thinking taking the drug is a life-sustaining activity. This deception is what leads to a person wanting to take the drug again and again. Sometimes an opiate is strong enough to create this reaction after just a single use. When taken over a long period of time, opioids change the way the brain’s nerve cells function. Eventually, the user is unable to experience pleasure without the drug. At this point, the person is addicted. An opioid addict will experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms without the regular use of the drug.

Opioids act on the body’s limbic system, brainstem, and spinal cord. The limbic system is responsible for controlling emotions such as relaxation, contentment, and pleasure. The brainstem controls the body’s automatic systems, such as breathing. Opioids in the brainstem can slow breathing and reduce feelings of pain. The spinal cord transmits sensations from the brain to the body and vice versa. Opioids on the spinal cord can decrease feelings of pain, such as after a serious accident. Injecting opioids into the bloodstream creates a faster, more intense reaction to the drugs. Taking an opioid by mouth results in slower effects, but is safer.

Opioids change the brain’s reward system, leading to addiction regardless of a person’s age, gender, or income. Opiate addiction does not depend on a person’s willpower, strength, or other dispositions, despite common misconceptions. Opiates are a dangerous and common substance for abuse. Understanding opioid addiction as a disease, and not a pitfall of a certain personality type or demographic, is the key to preventing addiction.

Opioid Addiction in America

The current opioid epidemic is due in large part to lax prescribing practices and lack of awareness and education about opioid addiction. Doctors around America issue prescriptions for strong painkillers to treat chronic pain and certain conditions, such as migraine headaches. Often, doctors fail to warn patients of the risk of addiction to prescription drugs. Patients typically do not associate prescription medications with drug abuse and addiction, since they are legal and given to them by a doctor. The combination of lack of addiction awareness and loose prescribing practices has led to the current opioid epidemic in the nation.

Heroin is just a step behind, with studies linking the increase in heroin use to the increase in prescription opioid addiction. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), heroin use in the U.S. tripled from 2007 to 2014. The number of deaths involving heroin skyrocketed from 3,036 in 2010 to 10,574 in 2014. As of 2015, the DEA estimated there were about 600,000 heroin users in the U.S. Understanding opioid addiction is the first step toward reducing the opiate powerhouse overtaking America.

Hope for the Future

In spite of the frightening rise in opioid abuse and related deaths in recent years, there is hope for the future. Many states have enacted systems to monitor prescribing practices in an effort to limit the number of prescription opioids that go to patients. Drug awareness programs have sprung up around the country, as have treatment centers. If you or a loved one is struggling with an opioid addiction, get help. Contact The Treatment Center.

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The History of Poppies and Opium

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

The History of Poppies and OpiumWhen most people think of poppies, they think of an innocent red or pink flower. They might think of the flower that put Dorothy to sleep in The Wizard of Oz, a fairly innocent children’s story. But poppies have a dark side with a long history – they are inextricably tied to drug addiction. Poppies are known as addictive plants and have long been used in opium production.

If you grow poppies in your garden, there is no need to panic and uproot them all at once. Nor is there any need to warn your families, friends, and neighbors against the evils of having a poppy in a bud vase. However, it is vital for everyone to educate themselves about the poppy’s history as an addictive plant. Education will help you and your loved ones guard against hidden sources of dangerous drugs.

How a Beautiful Flower Became a Dangerous Opium

Poppies have been cultivated for opium as far back as 3400 B.C. It was first cultivated in lower Mesopotamia, or what is now Southwest Asia. Poppies were progressively passed from the Sumerian culture to the Assyrians, and then to the Egyptians. The plant was commonly called hul gil, or “the joy plant,” because of the “highs” one can get from opium. From 3400 B.C. onward, opium importing, exporting, and use were common in many empires.

The main reason opium use spread so fast, was the Silk Road. The Silk Road refers to a series of interconnected trade routes running from Europe to China. The trade routes first developed between Persia (now Iran) and Syria, as well as in East Indian kingdoms. They grew along the Mediterranean coast, expanding well into China, and into European nations like Italy. By the Middle Ages, the Silk Road’s trade routes reached as far as Scandinavia. The Silk Road encompassed land and sea routes, making opium spread even farther and faster.

Opium was not always used recreationally. As far back as the 1600s and 1700s, it was primarily used medically, such as in traditional Chinese medicine. Recreational use was not unheard of, but uncommon, until the beginning of the Opium Wars. Until then, people who sought opium for recreational use depended on smuggling and commercial loopholes.

The Opium Wars

Although opium was not the only product traded on the Silk Road, it was always in high demand. Empires used it to increase their power and influence, and to control other nations. For example, Britain used their control of the East India Company to smuggle opium into China during the 1800s. The smuggling guaranteed Britain could meet its citizens’ constant demand for Chinese-produced tea. However, the more opium smuggled into China and other nations, the more people became addicted. By the early 1800s, China’s number of opium addicts had skyrocketed, partially due to Turkey’s involvement in the opium trade. An influx of American ships carrying Turkish-grown opium supplied China and other nations with heavy amounts of this coveted drug.

In 1839, China recognized this problem and shut down Britain’s drug trafficking racket. China also confiscated existing opium, which angered Britain and touched off the first of the Opium Wars. China’s Daoguang Emperor was determined to stop the spread of opium addiction in his country, and so Imperial Commissioner Lin Zexu enacted laws banning opium in China and cracking down on opium traders. British traders demanded compensation for their lost opium, but when the Treasury could not afford it, the war was used to resolve Britain’s debt.

During this time, Lin Zexu sent a letter to Queen Victoria, appealing to England’s own ban on the opium trade. He pointed out that if England was going to ban the drug, China was justified in instituting its own ban. In response, the Royal Navy blockaded Pearl Bay to restrict free trade in drugs. However, runs on the blockade, lost English and Chinese ships, and expeditionary forces kept the Opium War going until 1842.

The first Opium War ended with the Treaty of Nanjing, which established Hong Kong as a British territory. The treaty forced China to set up five treaty ports at which the British could trade all goods, including opium, freely. However, a second Opium War began in 1856 when Chinese officials seized the Arrow, a former pirate ship with a Chinese crew and expired British registration. This time France joined the war, having been involved in the treaty port business since 1843. Britain’s constant demand for concessions from China, failed diplomatic missions, and other issues made the Second Opium War stretch until 1860.

The Boxer Rebellion of 1899 further damaged relations between China and the West, and increased the opium problem. Today, the Opium Wars are known as part of China’s Century of Humiliations, and of the conflicts that destroyed Imperial China.

The Rise of Opium Across the World

Opium first entered the United States when Chinese immigrants arrived to work on our many developing railroads. The Gold Rush of 1849 brought a larger influx of Chinese immigrants, along with increased opium smoking and addiction. Opium addiction was not just a Chinese problem, however. By the mid-1800s, opium dens could be found around Southeast Asia and in parts of Europe. Immigrants from many nations brought opium with them, and dens gradually sprang up in the United States, especially in places like San Francisco and New York.

From the 1850s to the 1890s, opium use became more common in the United States. Opium could be drunk, injected, or smoked; drinking and injection were two popular methods of the time. San Francisco effectively banned opium smoking in the late 1800s, but the versatility of opium made it difficult to eradicate altogether. The Harrison Tax Act of 1914 sought to outlaw opium nationwide. However, opium, and especially its derivatives, was readily available to those who knew where to find them.

Opium Derivatives

Along with opium, itself, heroin can be produced from the opium poppy. This particular type of heroin has a long medical history; it was used as an asthma treatment in the 1830s. It was also used to calm fussy babies, as were its derivatives morphine and synthesized heroin. At the time, “heroin” was a brand name of the Bayer Company, now known for its aspirin, not just a street name or moniker for an illegal drug. After the Civil War, Bayer Heroin was actually used to help people addicted to morphine get rid of their addictions. Additionally, it was used as a pain reliever. These uses eventually backfired, and the Heroin Act of 1924 made heroin use illegal for medical and recreational uses throughout the United States.

Despite heroin’s illegal status, its use has been widespread for centuries. It was popular among jazz players and enthusiasts of the 1930s; this subculture gave us the term “hipster.” Heroin, opium, and related drugs such as LSD, MDMA, and marijuana have gained popularity in recent decades, too. Many people continue to use opium, heroin, and morphine to relieve chronic pain or induce sleep, which can lead to severe and lifelong addictions.

Codeine and Oxycodone are two other opium derivatives. They are arguably more dangerous than some of the others because they are often prescribed to treat common illnesses. Codeine, for example, is found in many popular cough syrups. It can also be taken orally as pain relief, and is much less potent than morphine. Yet constant or prolonged codeine use carries risk of dependency and addiction. As for Oxycodone, it too is a commonly prescribed pain reliever. It is made from a component of opium called the Baine, and can be snorted or injected.

Opium Addiction Signs and Symptoms

Opium has been used in medicine since at least 460 A.D., when Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, admitted its usefulness as a narcotic. However, opium’s addictive effects have consistently proven more harmful than beneficial. Today, opium addiction flourishes around the world, particularly in Asian and South American countries such as Thailand and Colombia. International drug trafficking organizations continue to market opium, heroin, and similar drugs throughout the United States.

Today, opium abuse is more commonly called opiate abuse. Abuse covers illegal drugs such as heroin, as well as legal ones such as fentanyl. Physical signs of the use of opioids include drowsiness, confusion, restricted pupils, slowed breathing, and intermittent loss of consciousness. Some opiate abusers experience marked euphoria and mood swings.

Opiate addicts often “doctor shop” to get the drugs they want. Their loved ones often notice extra pill bottles in the trash, or an increase in doctor’s appointments. Due to the doctor shopping, opiate addicts often experience financial problems. They may withdraw from friends and family to keep their addictions secret.

Some opiates are used to treat anxiety and insomnia, so addicts may experience an upswing of these symptoms when they can’t get their drugs of choice. During opiate withdrawal, addicts battle headaches, nausea, constipation and diarrhea, and fatigue, among other symptoms.

If You or a Loved are Suffering From an Opiate Addiction and Need Professional Help, Please Contact The Treatment Center Now for Individualized, Professional Rehabilitation.

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