Opioids reduce the perception of pain but can also produce drowsiness, mental confusion, euphoria, nausea, constipation, and, depending upon the amount of drug taken, can depress respiration. Illegal opioid drugs, such as heroin and legally available pain relievers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone can cause serious health effects in those who misuse them. Some people experience a euphoric response to opioid medications, and it is common that people misusing opioids try to intensify their experience by snorting or injecting them. These methods increase their risk for serious medical complications, including overdose. Other users have switched from prescription opiates to heroin as a result of availability and lower price. Because of variable purity and other chemicals and drugs mixed with heroin on the black market, this also increases risk of overdose. Overdoses with opioid pharmaceuticals led to almost 17,000 deaths in 2011. Since 1999, opiate overdose deaths have increased 265% among men and 400% among women.
In 2013, an estimated 1.8 million people had an opioid use disorder related to prescription pain relievers and an estimated 517,000 had an opioid use disorder related to heroin use.
Symptoms of opioid use disorders include strong desire for opioids, inability to control or reduce use, continued use despite interference with major obligations or social functioning, use of larger amounts over time, development of tolerance, spending a great deal of time to obtain and use opioids, and withdrawal symptoms that occur after stopping or reducing use, such as negative mood, nausea or vomiting, muscle aches, diarrhea, fever, and insomnia.
Get the facts on the misuse and abuse of prescription opioids such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and codeine, and the illegal opioid, heroin.
Opioids are a class of drugs chemically similar to alkaloids found in opium poppies. Historically they have been used as painkillers, but they also have great potential for misuse. Repeated use of opioids greatly increases the risk of developing an opioid use disorder. The use of illegal opiate drugs such as heroin and the misuse of legally available pain relievers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone can have serious negative health effects. According to the CDC, 64 people die every day in the United States from overdose of prescription painkillers.
A number of opioids are prescribed by doctors to relieve pain. These include hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and codeine. While many people benefit from using these medications to manage pain, prescription drugs are frequently diverted for improper use. In 2012 and 2013, almost 55% of people who misused prescription painkillers got them from a friend or relative for free, and approximately 20% got them from a doctor. As people use opioids repeatedly, their tolerance increases and they may not be able to maintain the source for the drugs. This can cause them to turn to the black market for these drugs and even switch from prescription drugs to cheaper and more risky substitutes like heroin.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)
- 4.5 million Americans engaged in non-medical use of prescription painkillers in the last month.
- Approximately 1.9 million Americans met criteria for an opioid use disorder based on their use of prescription painkillers in the past year.
- 1.5 million people used prescription painkillers non-medically for the first time in the past year.
- The average age for prescription painkiller first-time use was 21.7 in the past year.
Heroin is a powerful opiate drug. Heroin looks like a white or brownish powder, or as the black sticky substance known on the streets as “black tar heroin.” It is diluted with other drugs or with sugar, starch, powdered milk, or quinine before injecting, smoking, or snorting. Some of the physical symptoms of heroin are euphoria, drowsiness, respiratory depression, constricted pupils, nausea, and dry mouth.
A heroin overdose causes slow and shallow breathing, blue lips and fingernails, clammy skin, convulsions, coma, and can be fatal.
Many young people who inject heroin report misuse of prescription opioids before starting to use heroin. In addition to increasing the risk of overdose, the intravenous use of heroin places individuals at higher risk of diseases like HIV and hepatitis C.
According to SAMHSA’s 2013 NSDUH
4.8 million people have used heroin at some point in their lives.
Among people between the ages of 12 and 49, the average age of first use was 24.5.
169,000 people aged 12 or older used heroin for the first time within the past 12 months.
Approximately 300,000 people were regular (past-month) users of heroin