In order to understand how drugs work, and who is addicted to them, researchers lump medications into classes, based on how they work and what they do. While some people who abuse drugs are experts on these classifications, and they work hard to explore all of the drugs that exist within one specific group, many people who become addicted to drugs stumble into their addictions through roundabout, inadvertent paths, and they may have no idea that the drugs they are addicted to are related to notorious, dangerous drugs. This might be especially true of people who are addicted to opioid medications, also known as prescription painkilling drugs. People addicted to these drugs may feel that the drugs they abuse are “safe,” because they come from a doctor. In reality, these drugs are closely related to opiates, and these are some of the most dangerous drugs available on the street today.
Opiate vs. Opioid
Opioids are man-made drugs, created in a laboratory in an effort to help people control their pain. These prescription painkillers are likely familiar to anyone who has had a surgery, seen a dentist or endured a painful muscle injury. Prescription opioids like Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet are often given in response to these problems, and they can be effective in the fight against pain. What people may not realize, however, is that these drugs are closely related in chemical structure to the notorious street drug and opiate known as heroin. The difference between an opioid like Vicodin and an opiate like heroin lies only in where the drug is created, and where the drug is commonly sold. Where opioids are made in a lab and sold in a pharmacy, opiates begin as plants and they’re sold on the street. In the human body, these drugs work in much the same way.
Opiates and opioids are considered incredibly addictive because the human body seems hardwired to respond to these drugs. Throughout the brain and spinal cord, small receptors appear, and they’re just waiting to come into contact with one of these addictive drugs. When these drugs float through the bloodstream, they latch onto these receptors and trigger an amazing amount of chemical reactions. In response, the user feels:
It’s an incredible feeling, and it can be quite addictive as it’s hard to replicate via any method that does not involve drugs. There is some evidence, too, that women have a greater response to the feeling of opiates and opioids, when compared to men. For example, a study in the journal Health Economics found that female heroin addicts consumed “significantly more” heroin than their male counterparts. Where males might be likely to skip from drug to drug, based on price, females seem to stick to opioids and opiates almost exclusively, possibly because they feel a greater reaction when they take the drug, compared to men, and they’re unwilling to switch to a different type of drug.
The Rise of Addiction
While heroin has been around for millennia, and people have been known to use and abuse the drug ever since it was first discovered, many experts believe that the real “epidemic” of heroin use occurred in the 1970s. At this time, according to the National Institutes of Health, many veterans returning from Vietnam admitted to heroin addiction, and as a result, the United States government opened up a variety of treatment facilities to help these people to overcome their devastating addictions. It’s easy to see why the government would respond in this way. People who abuse heroin may resort to crime, in order to pay for the drugs they are addicted to, and rising crime rates are rarely accepted by the public at large. In addition, people who are addicted to heroin often shoot the drug using needles, and some people who are addicted share needles with one another. With the discovery of HIV/AIDS, the government was determined to stop heroin abuse, so people would stop sharing needles and developing this terrible infection as a result.
While there is some evidence to suggest that these treatment programs, along with rising awareness of the dangers of heroin use and abuse, have lowered the rate of heroin addiction in this country, it’s also true that the heroin problem was never completely resolved. For example, the Drug and Alcohol Services Information System reports that 254,000 people entered treatment programs in 2005 and reported that heroin was the primary drug they abused. It’s clear that, even though more is known about heroin than ever before, the addiction issue has never completely gone away.
In addition, although many of the news reports focused on men and the problems they faced due to their heroin addictions, many people who were addicted to heroin in the 1970s were women. For example, a study in the journal Substance Use and Misuse, published in 1978, found that “heroin addiction among women has increased at a much faster rate than among men.” Even though this is the case, many studies of heroin addiction were performed on men, and therapies developed were tailored to the wants and needs of men. It’s unclear if women who were addicted in the 1970s and 1980s ever got the help they needed in order to improve. It’s quite possible that many died due to their addictions, instead of receiving lifesaving help that was made just for them.
A New Kind of Addiction
As mentioned, opiates and opioids work on the same receptors and bring about the same responses in the human body. There is some evidence to suggest that women take these drugs to a much greater degree than men do, and they may develop addictions at a greater rate than men do as a result. Women are often encouraged to see their doctors for the pains they’re feeling, and they’re often great consumers of magazines in which prescriptions drug makers run advertisements. This has become big business for pharmaceutical companies, with Kaiser Family Foundation reporting that companies spent $12 million on such advertising in 1989, and a whopping $2.38 billion in 2001. Barraged with these subtle ads both day and night, women might feel compelled to ask for drugs when they’re in pain, and they might develop dangerous addictions as a result.
Women who are addicted to opioids might be required to go to extreme measures to obtain the drugs they crave, shopping for new doctors on a regular basis and using multiple pharmacies to fill their prescriptions so they can elude detection from those who regulate the industry. They also might find that they need to buy the drug on the street, and this is where true danger lies. Some street dealers sell pills marked appropriately, but they may contain no active ingredients at all, or they may contain completely different drugs than those the woman is addicted to. In addition, cost can become a significant issue, and it can lead some women into a dangerous and disastrous choice. According to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, prescription pain pills cost between $20 and $60, but heroin costs between $3 and $10. Women who are addicted to painkillers might make the switch to heroin simply because the drug works on the same receptors, but it is much less expensive and it’s easier to obtain. It’s a choice based on solid reasoning, but it can be disastrous for women.
Making the Switch
Prescription opioids are relatively easy to manage, as the power of the drug is often clearly stamped on the pills the user buys, and many people who abuse these drugs know exactly how much of the drug they should take in order to bring about the effects they crave. While the drugs were never developed in order to be abused, the governmental regulation of the industry makes it relatively easy for people to abuse these drugs and know exactly what dose of the drugs they are taking. If they use reputable dealers, or they obtain the drugs from pharmacies, they may be able to control their dosage with great precision.
Opiates like heroin, on the other hand, are completely illegal, and as a result, their manufacture isn’t regulated in any way, shape or form. As a result, people who abuse heroin might inadvertently buy product that has been tainted with inert ingredients such as:
- Talcum powder
People who take these tainted drugs might face withdrawal symptoms, since the heroin they are using isn’t potent. Conversely, some dealers mix their heroin with powerful additives such as ketamine, methamphetamine or antihistamines. Some dealers don’t dilute their heroin at all. People who buy these drugs might be taking a dosage that’s much stronger than the dosage they expect, and as a result, they can overdose. There is some evidence to suggest that these overdoses are on the rise, as users make the switch from prescription drugs to heroin. According to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, overdoses from heroin in people ages 15 to 24 rose from 198 in 1999 to 510 in 2009. It’s clear that more people are making the switch, and more are dying in the process.
Help is Available
The solution to the opiate/opioid addiction issue doesn’t lie in making “safer” versions of heroin, or encouraging people to continue to take the prescription drugs they were originally addicted to. Instead, the solution lies in developing effective solutions for the problem of addiction, and then making those solutions available to the women who so desperately need them. This is what we’ve done at The Orchid, and if you have an addiction, we want to help you.
Whether your addiction is to opiates or opioids, there are effective ways to free your life of this devastating disease. Here at The Orchid, we use healing, inter-relational therapies based largely on the groundbreaking work of Dr. Karen Dodge. Her extensive research has demonstrated conclusively that women tend to respond far better in communal environments, when compared to the kind of forced isolation many men prefer. By offering group therapy, and extensive support group help, we allow women to relate to one another and heal one another in transformative ways.
Community is just the beginning, however. When you come to The Orchid, you also benefit from an expansive suite of services that includes everything from art therapy to narrative therapy, such as in-depth storytelling and psychodrama role-playing. Your days are filled with affirming, holistic activities from acupuncture to lectures, offering all the tools you need to find your way back onto a solid footing.
Women typically come to addiction via depression, anxiety and poor self-concept. If you want to reverse such destructive forces and supplant them with the bonds of interconnectedness, we urge you to contact the certified professionals at The Orchid today. One phone call is all you need to begin this journey.