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Is Heroin An Opiate?

Dr. Ted Bender, Ph.D., LCDC

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Ted Bender, Ph.D., LCDC

February 6, 2019

Heroin is an illicit drug that falls under the opiate category. Opiates are highly addictive drugs that lead to strong dependence and usually require intensive rehabilitation for a successful recovery.

In the United States, opiate abuse and addiction has become such a serious issue that it is now regularly referred to as a nationwide crisis. Of the many opiates that commonly lead to addiction, overdose, and death, heroin is often the most widely recognized.

Heroin overdose led to the deaths of around 15,500 people nationwide in 2017. As this number continues to increase, treatment programs to counteract opiate-related addiction are becoming more prevalent across the country.

One of the best ways to begin helping a loved one who is struggling from heroin addiction is to have a better understanding of the substance on which they are dependent.

Understanding Opiates

Opiates—pain-relieving drugs falling under the category of Opioids—include drugs derivative of the opium poppy. Most opiates (and opioids) have a high potential for abuse due to ease of dependence. For this reason, they are considered controlled substances, highly regulated under United States law.

Opioids (and opiates) attach themselves to receptors in the brain and send messages that block the feeling of pain. These messages also lead to slowed movements and breathing, as well as an overall calm.

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Once attached to opioid receptors, an opiate will flood the brain with dopamine, a chemical that produces a sense of euphoria. The reward system present in the brain will then motivate those who abuse opiates to continue use. With continued use, the body will struggle to create any natural opioids, eventually leading to dependence on the drug.

As narcotics that induce sleep and provide analgesic effects, opiates have become deeply rooted in the illicit drug world and are no longer purely medicinal. Heroin, an illicit drug, is a semi-synthetic opioid metabolized into morphine following ingestion.

Rehabilitation For Opiate Addiction

Addiction to heroin and any other opiate should be addressed with a multi-level treatment program. Many rehabilitation facilities offer programs that take into account any underlying emotional or mental issues that often come with serious drug abuse.

Advancements in treatment have shown that entering an intensive, inpatient setting with a personalized approach provides for the highest rate of success for those with an opiate addiction.

In addition to therapies, medicine may be administered in a treatment setting to assist in achieving sobriety. Common medications for opiate addiction include methadone and buprenorphine. Buprenorphine helps relieve pain without the euphoric side effects associated with heroin and other opioids. Doctors will administer the drug on a tapered program until the physical effects of dependence have subsided.

National Institute On Drug Abuse - Overdose Death Rates

The National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment - How do opioids work in the brain?

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