Few people are aware of how Opium and painkillers are related. Opium is one of the oldest drugs in the world, and its use is believed to date as far back as 4200 BC. The use of the substance for both medicinal and recreational purposes is commonly found throughout much of Asia and the Middle East, where it is typically smoked. Opium is also one of the simplest drugs still in use today. It is created from the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum, by cutting the seed pod and allowing the sap, or latex, to flow out. This sap solidifies and darkens, and it is then harvested for use. Although it has historically been produced in many nations throughout Europe and Asia, today, Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer and consumer of illicit opium.
Opium and Painkillers in the United States
Opium’s popularity never quite reached the Western world. In the United States, opium is rare and recreational use has been virtually nonexistent since the mid-1800s. Therefore, no recent hard statistics are available. However, it is widely used in the production of heroin. It is also used to manufacture pharmaceutical drugs like morphine. Incidentally, morphine is the most common chemical constituent of raw opium. Opium also contains high amounts of codeine, which is used to make many of the prescription painkillers on the market today. While opium may not be widely abused in the United States, many substances created from it are, such as various painkillers and heroin.
Opiate Abuse and Addiction
Heroin is one of the most commonly abused opiates in America. Data from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimates that there are over two million active users in the country, roughly 800,000 of which are considered heavy addicts. The use of heroin is most popular among older Americans, but the CIA has found that the drug is becoming increasingly popular among younger people. Heroin’s relative purity compared to opium makes it an appealing choice for injecting and snorting. Furthermore, the comparatively small price of the substance makes it a popular choice among people living in poverty.
That said, heroin isn’t the only opium-derived substance to be concerned about. Statistics from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) claim that around 5.1 million Americans abuse or are addicted to prescription painkillers. These pills are often procured illegally and used by people who possess no prescription for them. Of the 5.1 million Americans who abuse these drugs, a staggering number are teens. The NIDA states that one in 12 high school seniors have abused Vicodin. An additional one in 20 has abused OxyContin.
Even more alarming is how these kids get their hands on the drugs in the first place. The NIDA goes on to report that nearly three-quarters of high school seniors got the drugs from friends or relatives. There is also a growing trend of teens illegally purchasing opiate painkillers online from overseas. The abuse of painkiller medications is rapidly becoming most prevalent among middle to upper-middle class Caucasian teens who live in the suburbs. This may be attributed to their relatively high cost per pill, with can lie anywhere between $2 and $80 depending on the dosage and type of painkiller.
Dangers of Opium and Related Substances
It is worth re-stating that opium use in the United States is very rare. Indeed, most people who are told they are receiving opium are getting tar heroin, which has been mixed with other ingredients to provide a convincing consistency. Heroin is often cut, or diluted, with various substances to alter its texture and appearance. Dealers also use this method to ensure higher profits. Some substances said to be used to cut heroin include:
- Baby laxatives
- Talc powder
- Powdered milk
- Ground opiate painkillers
These things pose the greatest threat to health when injected, which is the most common way of administering heroin. Regardless of the form opium takes, the risks to health and well-being are similar across the board:
- Lack of appetite, subsequent weight loss, and malnutrition
- Constipation, sometimes to a dangerous degree
- Nausea and vomiting
- “Nodding,” wherein the user intermittently dozes off. This only occurs once the user nears the overdose threshold, and is a commonly sought-after effect.
- Hypersensitivity to bright lights
- “Cotton Fever,” a side effect of intravenous use of “dirty” opiates
- Struggles with withdrawal symptoms
- Overdose that is fatal or requires emergency medical attention
The relationship of opium and painkillers is not widely known, but the damages caused by these drugs are seen daily.
Use and possession of opium and opium-derived substances carries severe legal consequences. It is a felony to be caught selling, transporting or possessing opium and heroin. Furthermore, it is a crime to possess opium-derived medications for which you don’t have a prescription. It is also a felony to sell them, even if you have a valid prescription. The punishment depends on which state the crime occurred in, but it is not uncommon for people to serve years or decades for simple possession. Apparently, the relationship between Opium and painkillers is misunderstood, and this can lead to dangerous consequences.