Drug abuse has plagued the American continent since the 1800s, when morphine, heroin and cocaine were hailed for their amazing curative properties. In the 1960s many new and exotic drugs, such as hallucinogens, benzodiazepines, amphetamines and marijuana, became readily available and the street drug trend became a booming industry. People from all walks of life are paying big money to purchase street drugs illegally. Housewives, executives, and lawyers are among some of the cash purchasers. Buying drugs off the street is as easy as sending a text message to the local neighborhood dealer and having him or her deliver your drugs at your doorstep in exchange for cash. There are so many drugs of abuse out on the market that it is not uncommon for the general public to mistake methamphetamine for heroin and Percocet for Xanax. Pharmaceutical drugs that are used as prescriptions are often mistaken for street drugs that are made in illegally in an underground lab.

Meth abuse does not create a physical dependency, but it quickly develops into a vicious psychological addiction. The quick and intense euphoric feelings that are felt and the changes in the brain lead the abuser to have a mental dependency on meth. There are signs that are exhibited when a person is high on methamphetamines. These are some examples of the signs:

  • Euphoria
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures
  • Depression
  • Aggressive and violent behavior
  • Severe dental problems
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Dilation of pupils
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Nausea

Another consequence of using meth is the onset of obsessive behaviors. People may begin to participate in repetitive activities and behaviors for prolonged periods of time as a result of meth destroying the brain’s inhibitory control.

Paranoia and aggression also often result from meth use, as does the onset of hallucinations and delusions, including feeling things such as having bugs crawling under their skin and hearing voices that are not really there.

Methamphetamines

Meth (Methamphetamine) is a powerful and intense synthetic stimulant that is used to reach a quick “high” (an intense euphoric reaction to a drug). It is not considered to be physically addictive, but it is exceptionally psychologically addictive. When injected or smoked, the meth immediately produces a rush of dopamine (dopamine controls the brain’s pleasure and reward centers), which is released in the brain and causes an intense high or “flash.” The effects are short-lived, only a few minutes, but it is considered to be tremendously pleasurable. It is a white, bitter-tasting, odorless crystalline powder that dissolves easily in alcohol or water. Methamphetamine is a synthetic drug produced in underground laboratories, basements, kitchens or anywhere that has a stove a few household ingredients. Some of the standard elements that compose meth include drain cleaner, antifreeze, rat poison, battery acid, and kerosene.

Opioids

Opioids are also known as prescription painkillers and are derived from the opium poppy plants. Heroin, Percocet, and Lortab are common opioids but often get confused with methamphetamines even though they are in two completely different categories. They are only prescribed for chronic and intense pain. Post surgical patients, individuals on hospice and patients undergoing cancer treatments are rightfully prescribed opioids to ease their pain however this overly addicting class of prescription medication is overprescribed and sold on the back market, resulting in the well-known opioid epidemic which affects five million individuals in the United States each year and is responsible for 17,000 deaths each year in the United States. Opioid overdose is responsible for opioid related deaths however opioid withdrawal, although not deadly, is responsible for the opioid dependence; the reason why individuals keep using opioids is to prevent the gruesome withdrawal side effects such as bone pain, nausea, diarrhea, and intense stomach cramps.

Opioids 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)

Different opioids affect the body at different rates. Some are fast acting meaning their effects take place in a short amount of time and are then eliminated from the body soon after where, medium and long acting opiates take longer to produce effects and stay in the body for a longer duration of time. Also there are different strengths depending on the specific type of opioid. For example fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. Regardless of the potency and duration of action, the signs and symptoms of opioid intoxication are all the same and are listed below:

  • Drowsiness
  • Pupillary constriction
  • Slurred speech
  • Constipation
  • Respiratory depression (slow shallow breathing)
  • Stupor
  • Coma

Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines commonly referred to, as “nerve pills” are commonly prescribed to individuals with anxiety related disorders and seizures but have become substances of abuse over the last few decades. Xanax, Valium, and Ativan are well known benzodiazepines that are often abused in order to “take the edge off” or help induce sleep. Benzodiazepines can result in death both by overdose and withdrawal and as a result are considered extremely dangerous, especially when taken with alcohol, which acts on the same receptors as benzodiazepines. Although overdose can occur from benzodiazepines, withdrawal from this class of medication can be deadly and therefore it is important to consult a medical professional if you are trying to wean yourself benzodiazepines. Like alcohol, the immediate cessation from benzodiazepines can result in seizures and therefore a slow taper must be initiated.