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Types of Narcotic Drugs
Whether they are pharmaceutically produced or made in home laboratories, narcotics are drugs produced from a base of opium. Often called "opiate drugs" in order to differentiate them from other classes of drugs, they are the same things. Opiate drugs are also called opioids. This term has come into use because many people believe the term narcotic is interchangeable with drug.
For this reason, it is important to begin the discussion with a definition of the term "narcotics." Its origin began when a Greek physician used the Greek word narcosis to describe all drugs that made people sleep, dulled the senses, or numbed and treated pain.
History of Opium
Opium was first used in Mesopotamia around 3400 BC. It was passed along, through ancient cultures in the Middle East for use as a pain reliever and for its pleasurable effects. The Sumarians called the opium poppy Hul Gil, which means “joy plant.” It spread into Egypt and Greece, becoming more widely used as travel became popular and has spread around the world. Today, most opium is grown in Afghanistan and is part of the reason for ongoing war in that nation.
The first medications were made from poppies and smoked for their beneficial and euphoric effects. More recreational than medicinal, opium was first introduced into China in approximately 400 AD. They began widespread cultivation and use of opium for medicinal purposes.
For several hundred years, there was little or no opium used in Western culture, due to the nature of belief in Eastern “mysticism” as conflicting with Reformation beliefs throughout Europe. Opium was reintroduced in this culture around 1500, and marketed as “Laudanum”. This was used for many purposes and continued to be marketed until the early 1900s in the US and Western Europe.
Today, drugs are produced from opium and others created synthetically to mimic its effect.
Types of Narcotics
The two most common forms of narcotic drugs are morphine and codeine. Both are synthesized from opium for medicinal use. The most commonly used drug for recreational purposes created from opium is heroin. Synthesized drugs created with an opium base for use in pain management are fentanyl, oxycodone, tramadol, demarol, hydrocodone, methadone, and hydromorphone.
How Narcotics Work
A central nervous system depressant, these medications work by binding to receptors in the brain and spine to stop signals of pain from reaching their destination. In very short order, these receptors begin to “leak” pain signals through, making it necessary for the user to take higher and more frequent doses to mask pain. This builds up the phenomenon of tolerance to the narcotic. This quickly becomes dependence and symptoms of withdrawal will occur for the user, along with “breakthrough pain” when effects begin to wear off.
With severe pain experience, effective pain management necessitates the use of these narcotics continually to maintain a “blanket” of comfort for the user. This is used most often with severe injuries, cancer treatment, and for those with terminal pain conditions. Some who live with severe and chronic pain are unable to get relief, due to the quick build-up of tolerance to the medications they need to keep pain away. Some doctors will “layer” medications to keep their patients comfortable. This can become extremely expensive, especially for those elderly with chronic pain conditions who live on fixed incomes and do not have the resources to maintain their need for narcotics.
What Makes Narcotics Dangerous?
Risk of overdose is large with narcotic use, even when it is prescribed and monitored by a physician. This is due to the “layering” or “blanket” effect of pain management. Because the drugs induce drowsiness and make the user mentally dull, they may not remember taking a dose or feel they need to take more. This is one danger for overdose of medication. Other risks are in mixing alcohol or other drugs with the narcotics, creating greater risk for drug interactions that can be fatal.
Effects of narcotics that are dangerous for users are their inability to make sound decisions, due to the drowsiness and dizziness of the user. There is danger in functioning physically and while operating a vehicle or machinery as well. Other effects are damage done to the liver and kidneys of the user, as well as heart rate decreases. Constipation and bowel obstruction are common with opiate use, as are muscle spasms and contractions. Some seizures are also common. Death may occur from any of these effects when long-term or chronic use exists.
As dependence increases, the symptoms of withdrawal from narcotic drugs become more severe and painful. The symptoms last for several days and can continue for up to two weeks. Synthetic narcotics create even more severe withdrawal symptoms. Some doctors prescribe additional medications to offset the symptoms. These can be tapered off to more comfortably allow the user to come down without violent symptoms. However, some treatment drugs are equally addictive, such as suboxone and methadone for treating addiction to narcotics.
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