Opiates are often referred to as narcotics and have been used medically to relieve pain for centuries. In the early 19th century, pure morphine extract was suitable for solution, and with the advent of the hypodermic needle in the mid-19th century, injection of morphine became a common method of pain relief. In 1898, heroin was introduced into the medical community as a remedy for addiction to morphine. However, it was soon revealed that heroin was even more likely to produce addiction than morphine. While opiates began their start in the medical community, they have quickly become one of the most commonly abused drug groups. Today, only codeine and morphine are still used in the clinical setting for pain management. The opiates drug group includes opium, morphine, codeine and heroin, among other synthetic opiates such as Demerol.

Short-term and Long-term Effects of Opiates

Opiates can cause serious health complications, such as fatal overdose, spontaneous abortion, and infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, particularly in users who inject opiates.

Opiates have short-term effects that appear quite soon after a dose and last a few hours. After injection of opiates, the user typically reports feeling a rush of euphoria, an increase in body temperature, dry mouth, and a heavy feeling in their limbs. The user then spends the next few hours alternating from a wakeful to a drowsy state until the drug wears off.

Regular use of opiates leads to a buildup of a user’s tolerance. This means that the user must increase their subsequent dose of opiates to achieve the same effect as before. As the user increases their dose over time, they develop physical dependency and addiction. Their body has acclimated to the drug use, and has grown to depend on the presence of drugs in order to function properly. If an opiate user stops the intake of that drug, uncomfortable and even dangerous withdrawal symptoms may occur. Death from a opiate overdose often occurs when a user who has been off opiates for some time resumes taking the same amount of drug they are used to. Because the body’s tolerance has decreased during this time off period, the resulting effect is a drug overdose.

After repeated opiate use over a long period of time, long term side effects will begin to appear. Addicts who have been using for a long period of time often ignore their health because the only thing that matters is getting more of that drug. This self neglect can take the form of not eating and ignoring personal hygiene, which makes the user more susceptible to disease. Longtime users may develop collapsed veins, infections in their heart and valves, and liver disease. Because opiates depress respiration, pulmonary complications, such as pneumonia, may occur in longtime users due to respiratory depression and the poor health of the drug user.

Opiate Withdrawal

Opiate withdrawal can be incredibly painful, and in some case very dangerous. Withdrawal symptoms may occur as soon as a few hours after the last dose in users who have been regularly abusing opiates. Withdrawal symptoms include intense cravings for opiates, restlessness, body pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, and cold flashes among other symptoms. In longtime, heavy users who are in poor health, withdrawal can occasionally be fatal. Withdrawal symptoms for most users typically subside within a week.