Opiates are often legally prescribed to patients for the treatment of moderate to severe pain. When used according to the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional, opiates can have enormous benefits in helping patients cope with pain. However, opiates can be highly addictive and habit-forming, making them the most popular drugs for abuse in the United States. Even when legally prescribed, these drugs can be abused by taking them in larger doses or more frequently than recommended by the doctor or pharmacist. These drugs can induce euphoric or calming effects, and overtime a drug tolerance can form. This means that more of the substance is required in order to achieve the same effect. Once a person becomes dependent on opiates, the severe withdrawal symptoms can make it extremely difficult to stop, and may even require medical intervention. Due to their highly addictive nature, dangerous side effects, and harsh withdrawal symptoms, almost all opiates are classified as controlled substances under the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Controlled Substances Act.
Commonly Abused Opiates
Morphine is a natural substance that comes from the opium poppy plant, and heroin is actually synthesized from morphine. It is often used for patients suffering from chronic pain or illness, such as cancer, or to reduce pain after surgery. However, morphine has a high potential for abuse and can be habit-forming, resulting in a drug tolerance that can lead to fatality.
Codeine is an opiate used to treat pain, often in the form of a tablet, capsule, or liquid solution. Since this medication has a high risk for abuse and can be habit-forming, some people start taking this medication as a treatment for pain and then build a tolerance that leads to addiction. Withdrawal symptoms from this substance can be severe.
Hydrocodone, also commonly known by the brand name Vicodin, can be an effective prescription painkiller. Despite its classification as a controlled substance, however, hydrocodone may also be abused for its ability to produce a heroin-like high.
Oxycodone is commonly prescribed to relieve pain, but is also widely abused and dangerously addictive. Like all opiates, the misuse of oxycodone can be especially dangerous in work environments, particularly those that involve driving or operating heavy machinery.
Fentanyl is about 50 to 100 times the strength of morphine, making it a useful drug to treat extreme pain that is often associated with cancer. On the streets, heroin or cocaine is sometimes laced with fentanyl in order to increase the euphoric effects, making these drugs sometimes fatal for those who unknowingly use it. Even as one of the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths, fentanyl abuse is still on the rise.
Meperidine, better known by the brand name of Demerol, is another opiate intended for the treatment of moderate to severe pain. However, this drug is also abused by people thirsting for the euphoric high that can be brought about by its abuse.
Tramadol has some legal use as a prescription painkiller, but is also becoming more commonly abused. Since the high that tramadol produces when abused can feel calmer than many similar drugs, people can be tricked into believing this opiate is a safe recreational drug. Nevertheless, tramadol abuse can lead to countless severe side effects.
Buprenorphine, also commonly known by the brand name Suboxone, is a prescription medication intended for the treatment of opioid addiction. This drug is less frequently abused due to its lack of euphoric effects, but it is still abused in order to prevent withdrawal symptoms in between use of other opioids.
Butorphanol was originally only available as an injection to treat pain, but abuse of this drug increased when the nasal spray became available in 1992. Using too much butorphanol or using it in combination with other drugs can result in severe, life-threatening side effects.
Sufentanil is a Schedule II substance that is about 5 to 10 times more potent than fentanyl. It is restricted to use only inside of supervised healthcare facilities, and is not approved for prescription use at home. Nonetheless, some people still find a way to abuse this substance, which can expose them to some dangerous consequences.
Nalbuphine is rarely prescribed, and is only available by injection in the United States. With such limited legal use, it is also not widely available on the streets. When abused, however, nalbuphine can create some dangerous side effects.
Pentazocine, commonly known by the brand name Talwin, is a drug used for pain relief that is sometimes abused in combination with other drugs. Severe side effects may occur, especially if combined with benzodiazepines or alcohol.