tylish deep purple abstract of squares and ASYR icon symbol with the word opioidsOpiates are some of the world’s oldest known drugs. Derived from the poppy plant, the use of natural opiates dates back to ancient times.

Any drug derived from the poppy plant, whether naturally or synthetically, is a type of opioid. This includes illegal drugs like heroin and regulated drugs like morphine, codeine and oxycodone, which are often used by healthcare professionals for pain management.  Opiates are drugs in the opioid family that are derived directly from the poppy plant and not processed synthetically.

There are over 50 known types of opioids, which are often known by their brand name rather than their scientific name. For example, oxycodone is the scientific name for one type of opioid, which is sold under several brands that use oxycodone as the main ingredient, including OxyContin and Percocet.

Often prescribed by healthcare professionals to address acute, episodic and chronic pain, opioids can create a powerful psychological addiction that can develop from the use of licit (legal) or illicit (illegal) forms of the drug. Early identification and drug use management is essential.

How do opioids work?

The body has opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord and some internal organs, which opium and opium-based drugs act on to partially or fully suppress pain and create a feeling of euphoria.

The euphoria from opioid use can create a powerful psychological addiction. Also, people who are prescribed opioids for pain management may fear pain reoccurrence if the drug use is stopped.

Did You Know?

As of August 29, 2017:

  • In 2016, sadly there were 2,816 apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada
  • From January to March 2017, there were at least 602 apparent opioid-related deaths and it is expected that this count will rise as additional data become available
  • Most apparent opioid-related deaths occurred among males (73%)
  • The number of apparent opioid-related deaths involving fentanyl-related opioids more than doubled in January to March 2017 as compared to the same time period in 2016

Source: Health Canada

What are the signs & symptoms of opioid addiction?

  • needing to take more of the drug to get the same effect
  • persistently wanting to quit, or trying unsuccessfully to quit
  • spending a lot of time and effort to obtain, use and recover from opioids
  • continuing to use opioids despite negative consequences
  • crushing, snorting, smoking or injecting opioids
  • running out of prescription medications early
  • accessing two or more physicians for prescriptions
  • escalating use
  • buying opioids on the street
  • showing signs of opioid intoxication (e.g., nodding off, pinpoint pupils)
  • feeling ill (withdrawal) when the use of opioids suddenly stops
  • experiencing cravings to use
  • making the use of drugs a priority over family, work and other important obligations

What are the causes & risk factors of opioid addiction?

Opioid addiction is caused by a combination of physical and psychological factors. They include:

  • access to opioid drugs, whether from licit or illicit sources
  • development of physical tolerance to the drug
  • use of increasing quantities of the drug
  • compulsive use
  • presence of withdrawal symptoms

Risk factors for developing opioid addiction include:

  • personal history of substance use issues involving any substance, including alcohol
  • family history of substance use problems or addiction
  • history of preadolescent sexual abuse
  • history of psychiatric problems

Learn more about ASYR’s treatment programs.