Synthetic opiates, also known as synthetic opioids, play a vital role in modern pain management but also present a high risk for abuse and addiction. These man-made drugs, including fentanyl, methadone, and tramadol, are developed in laboratories to emulate the pain-relieving properties of natural opiates like morphine and codeine. While initially regarded as safer alternatives with a lower addiction risk, it’s now understood that synthetic opiates carry similar addictive potentials.
Their mechanism of action involves binding to opioid receptors in the brain, blocking pain signals, and often inducing euphoria. This makes them effective against pain but also highly addictive. The use of synthetic opiates can rapidly lead to physical dependence and addiction, characterized by increasing tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and continued use despite adverse effects.
The potency of synthetic opiates, particularly drugs like fentanyl, which are significantly stronger than heroin, underscores the danger of misuse. Overdoses, often fatal, are a severe risk, especially with illegally manufactured opiates prevalent in the black market. These illicit opiates may be combined with other substances, increasing potency and the risk of overdose.
Opioids are classified into three types: natural, semi-synthetic, and fully synthetic. Natural opiates, derived from the opium poppy, include compounds like morphine, codeine, and thebaine. Semi-synthetic opioids are humanmade in labs from natural opiates and encompass drugs like hydromorphone, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and heroin (an illegal drug derived from morphine). Fully synthetic opioids, which are entirely man-made and do not contain natural opiates, include drugs such as fentanyl, pethidine, levorphanol, methadone, tramadol, and dextropropoxyphene.
Among the most abused opioids in the United States are morphine and codeine (natural opioids); heroin, oxycodone, oxymorphone, and hydrocodone (semi-synthetic opioids); and buprenorphine, methadone, and fentanyl (synthetic opioids). Oxycodone and hydrocodone, both semi-synthetic, are often prescribed in combination with acetaminophen for severe pain management, like post-surgical or cancer-related pain. In 2014, hydrocodone/acetaminophen combinations (e.g., Vicodin, Norco, Lortab) had about 123.3 million prescriptions. Oxycodone, commonly paired with acetaminophen under brands like Percocet, is also widely prescribed. While acetaminophen, found in Tylenol, is used for fever and pain relief and is not a narcotic, it is often used alongside narcotics for enhanced pain relief. However, high doses of acetaminophen can lead to liver damage and liver failure.
Addressing synthetic opiate addiction often requires a inpatient rehab treatment approach. This includes medically supervised detox, medication-assisted therapy, counselling, and participation in support groups, aiming not just to cease drug use but to tackle underlying issues and support sustained recovery.
The escalation in synthetic opiate misuse has notably contributed to the opioid epidemic. These drugs, though important for managing severe and chronic pain, are frequently abused, leading to dependency. The illegal production and distribution of synthetic opiates, often of unknown composition, further exacerbate the risks and challenges in combating this growing public health issue.
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Founded in 2008, WeDoRecover has evolved from an advisory service for addiction treatment into a comprehensive provider of care, following its 2019 merger with Changes Addiction Rehab in Johannesburg. Specializing in connecting patients to top-tier addiction treatment centers in the UK, South Africa, and Thailand, WeDoRecover supports individuals globally, including those from the United Arab Emirates and Europe. Accepting both South African medical aid and international health insurance, the organization facilitates access to high-quality treatment for substance and alcohol use disorders, offering individualized care that addresses the physical, mental, and social needs of patients.
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