Legal and Street Opioids: Why Are They so Addictive?

The opioid crisis in Canada has been in the news for two years now, but many are still fuzzy on what drugs are classed as opioids. A lot of Canadians may be prescribed an opioid at some point in their life after surgery, an accident, or as part of a treatment plan for a chronic condition. It is important to learn about the potentially addictive side effects of opioids before taking them. However, opioids aren’t just in pharmacies, they are also on the street in many illicit drugs. This blog will explain what an opioid is and what kinds of legal and street opioids are out there.

What is an Opioid?

In the past, opioids referred only to synthetic opiates, drugs that were chemically created to mimic opium. Opiates referred only to drugs derived from opium, which is naturally occurring in the poppy plant. However, most medical professionals and the media now use opioids as the general term. “An opioid is any agent that binds to opioid receptors (protein molecules located on the membranes of some nerve cells) found principally in the central nervous system and gastrointestinal tract and elicits a response.” Morphine, methadone, oxycodone, and heroin are examples of opioids you may be familiar with.

There are four classes of opioids:

  • Endogenous opiods: These naturally occur in the body as endorphins
  • Opium alkaloids: Morphine and codeine
  • Semi-synthetic opioids: Heroin and oxycodone
  • Fully synthetic opioids: Methadone

How do Opioids Affect the Body?

The human brain has opioid receptors. When opioids are ingested they attach to those receptors in the brain. The effects include dulling pain, slowed breathing, and a general calm feeling. Naturally occurring opioids like endorphins cannot cause a person to overdose. When opioids are ingested they can give the user feelings of intense euphoria. A higher dose can depress the breathing to the point of overdose and death. Respiratory depression is the main cause of death in fatal opioid overdoses. This is especially concerning when opioids are taken in conjunction with other depressants like alcohol. Two non-lethal doses of these substances combined can lead to a fatal overdose.

What if I Have a Problem with Opioids?

If it is hard for you to restrict your recreational use of opioids, or feel you are reliant on prescription opioids, there are ways to get help. Drug rehab programs obviously deal with opioid addictions, and there are both 12 step and non 12 step methodologies. The federal government has made it easier across the provinces to access drugs like methadone and Suboxone. These drugs allow you to come off of opioids with minimal withdrawal sickness symptoms and come with a plan to eventually taper off of the maintenance medication too. Sunshine Coast Health Centre is one of the only drug rehab programs in Canada to offer Suboxone as part of a drug addiction treatment plan for those on opioids trying to get sober. Learn more about why this is our policy here.


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