#1 What are Opioids?
Welcome to the first in a series of articles to inform the community about the opioid crisis nationally, in Indiana, and in White County. I recently began serving as an AmeriCorps member at White County United Way as a part of Indiana United Ways’ United Against Opioid Abuse project. Part of my AmeriCorps service is to have conversations with community members about how opioids are affecting our county, what is being done to combat the crisis, and how we can continue to deal with it. I have had more than fifty conversations with individuals, community groups and agencies to learn about how opioids have impacted our community. I have spoken to people in jail and recovery, law enforcement and the judicial system, churches, health care workers, and educators, just to name a few. In those conversations, I have learned about the great work people have been doing in White County over the years to address opioid use, and about community aspiration, needs, and frustrations.
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Let’s start with some basics questions: what are opioids and how do they differ from other drugs?
An opiate is a drug naturally derived from the poppy plant, while opioid is a broader term that includes any synthetic or natural substances (opiates) that bind to the brain’s opioid/dopamine receptors. (Centeronaddiction.org) (This will be discussed more fully in a later article.) The terms “opiates” and “opioids” will be used interchangeably here. Opiates can be legal prescription drugs as well as illegal street drugs. Both are highly addictive. Opioids are depressants, cause euphoria and reduce the body’s ability to feel pain, making them very effective in treating pain. They can also be used to treat coughs and diarrhea. Opioids produce effects of pain relief, cough relief, constipation, dulled senses, euphoria, slowed respiration and heart rate.
Opioids include morphine, (MS Contin®, Kadian®) heroin, oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percoset®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®, Hysingla®, Zohydro ER®, Lorcet®, Lortab®, Norco®), hydromorphone (Dilaudid®, Exalgo®), Meperidine (Demerol®) codeine, fentanyl (Sublimaze®, Duragesic®) and methadone (Dolophine®, Methadose®).
The long-term effects of opioid use include nausea and vomiting, bloating and constipation and liver damage. But, the most devastating long-term effect of opioids is how they change the wiring and structure of the brain causing dependence and addiction.
Many other addictive substances are not opioids and we will discuss these in the next column.
Lynn Saylor is an AmeriCorps member serving in the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative through the White County United Way. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Lynn Saylor is the AmeriCorps member working with the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative alongside the White County United Way. She is a major facilitator of the United Council on Opioids serving White County and a regular contributor to local media.