According to statistics, opioid addiction affects approximately five million individuals in the United States each year and is responsible for 17,000 deaths each year in the U.S. The abuse potential for opioids begins at a young age, usually during adolescence or early adulthood and continues into middle and late adulthood. Americans make up approximately five percent of the world’s population but is responsible for 80% of the consumption of the world’s opioid supply and therefore have one of the largest opioid addiction crises in the world. Prescription opioids are majorly responsible for this crises resulting in 46 deaths per day in 2012.

Types of opioids

Opioids (also called narcotics and painkillers) can be divided into naturally occurring, semi-synthetic and synthetic opioids. Naturally occurring opioids are extracted from the opium poppy whereas semi-synthetic opioids use a chemical process after extracting natural opioids. Synthetic opioids are made using complete chemical synthetic with no natural ingredients involved. The following include the most abused opioids used fro pain relief in the United States:

Morphine (naturally occurring opioid)
Codeine (naturally occurring opioid)
Heroin (semi-synthetic opioid)
Oxycodone (semi-synthetic opioid)
Oxymorphone (semi-synthetic opioid)
Hydrocodone (semi-synthetic opioid)
Buprenorphine (synthetic opioid)
Methadone (synthetic opioid)
Fentanyl (synthetic opioid)

The body’s response to painkillers

Narcotic medications are used for acute or chronic pain however when taken in large or frequent amounts can lead to side effects such as constipation, euphoria dry mouth, confusion, excessive drowsiness and respiratory depression. The body manufactures its own opioids known as endorphins that bind to specific opioid mu receptors in the brain, spinal cord and gastrointestinal tract. When bound to their receptors, opioids cause release of serotonin and dopamine, causing a sense of euphoria and pain relief. Dependence occurs when the body becomes so physically addicted to these medications that withdrawal symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, sweating and diarrhea occur in the absence of these narcotics.