A History of Opioids

 In Substance Abuse

Whether you personally struggle with a desire to use substances, or you know and love someone who does, it is important to arm yourself with the correct history of opioids and knowledge about the effects that these substances have. 

You may already be all-too-familiar with the withdrawal symptoms that set in after your last use, or the very real effects of tolerance that make funding your habit cause more strain on your wallet. But what’s going on under the surface? Why does this happen, and should we be thinking about opioids differently than other drugs?

A Brief History of Opioids

Naturally occurring in the opium poppy flower is what’s known as opium alkaloids. There are more than 20 opiates found in opium but there are six that occur in large amounts and are used by the medical industry: codeine, morphine, thebaine, and papaverine. Morphine and codeine are some of the oldest and most well-known opiates. Thebaine is not used in its natural state but is instead converted into oxycodone or hydrocodone that is used in the popular medications Vicodin and Percocet.

Throughout the history of opioids, scientists have worked to isolate individual components in their quest to discover “safer” pain management medications. Likely some of these names you may be more familiar with than others.

Semi-Synthetic Opioids

Oxycodone and hydrocodone are semi-synthetic opioids meaning they are man-made chemicals that are derived from these naturally occurring opiates. Similarly, diacetylmorphine, also known as heroin, is a semi-synthetic opiate as it is manufactured by boiling morphine and acetic anhydride.  

Synthetic Opioids

In laboratories, scientists have been able to create drugs that mimic the effects of opiates but are not derived from the opium poppy. These manufactured or synthesized drugs are known as synthetic opioids and include methadone, meperidine, and most recently, fentanyl.

The Rise of Fentanyl

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, was first developed in 1959 by Janssen as an intravenous (IV) surgical anesthetic, but over the years it has been modified to be delivered in several different forms for the purpose of pain management, originally for those suffering from Cancer. In many ways, fentanyl represents a breakthrough in pain management. On the other hand, fentanyl has also become the newest enemy in the war on drugs.  

Fentanyl is 100x stronger than morphine therefore the risk of abuse and overdose is high. In 2016 Synthetic opioids (primarily illegal fentanyl) were involved in nearly 50% of opioid deaths, which is up from 14% in 2010 in the United States. Research has also shown that in recent years, synthetic and prescription opioids are involved in more overdose deaths than heroin.

Opioid Addiction

All opioids (natural opium and synthetic opioids) influence similar areas of the brain that are associated with reward and pleasure. The release of neurotransmitters (dopamine) is actually the precise factor that makes these drugs so addictive, as it is a great pain reliever and provides a euphoric rush that so many are looking for. This, in addition to the natural processes of tolerance and withdrawal, make these substances a deadly combination. 

Those using opioids for a length of time will develop tolerance to the substance, meaning they have to increase their dose to get the same effect. Tolerance works hand in hand with the experience of withdrawal, meaning those who use regularly and at increasingly higher doses find that their bodies have come to be reliant upon having the substance in their system. Their bodies have actually halted its own neurotransmitter production and is thus “dependent” on the drug. Without the externally-provided dopamine rush, a person will struggle to feel pleasure, as well as struggle even to feel normal. This dependence is a hallmark sign of addiction.

Once the physical addiction has taken root, it is even more difficult for individuals to claw their way back to recovery. So again, whether you personally struggle with a desire to use substances, or you know and love someone who does, it is important to truly understand the effects that these substances have, the history of opioids, and what makes them so insidious. 

Opioid Addiction Treatment in Los Angeles

Launch Centers in Los Angeles offers treatment from the devastating effects of addiction. Our specialized treatment programs helps individuals reclaim and rediscover their lives with individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and vocational services. Our distinguished staff knows what it takes to recover from the disease of addiction and can help you get back the life you deserve. Call us today at 866-891-5757.


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