When it comes to pain relief, opiate-based remedies head the pack as the fastest, most effective drugs on the market. Opiates work by slowing down central nervous system processes, and essentially interfering with normal signal transmissions between nerve cells throughout the body.
As of 2010, as many as two million people reported having used opiates for the first time, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. This amounts to 5,500 new users a day within a 12-month time span. The dangers of opiates come into play in cases where users ingest these drugs on a continual, long-term basis.
Opiates exert their most damaging effects within the brain where the dangers of opiates evolve and take root over time. When taken as prescribed, the overall risk remains minimal. When abused, the dangers of opiates take the form of widespread alterations in brain function that eventually leads to cell deterioration, physical dependency and addiction.
Increasing Tolerance Levels
The dangers of opiates all stem from the brain’s natural affinity for opiate effects. In chemical structure, opiates closely resemble the brain’s neurotransmitter chemicals. This similarity makes it easy for opiate drugs to interfere with normal brain chemical processes.
Normally, the brain secretes neurotransmitter chemicals as needed, such as when a person is under stress or injured. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opiates can also induce neurotransmitter secretions by stimulating specific brain cell receptor sites. In effect, opiates over-stimulate cell sites, releasing excess amounts of neurotransmitter chemicals into the brain.
Over time, cell sites weaken and desensitize to opiate effects. The less sensitive cell sites become the larger the dosage amount needed to produce the same drug effects. Cell sites will continue to weaken while tolerance levels continue to increase for as long as a person keeps using.
Alterations in Brain Function
Normal brain function relies on a certain rhythm within the brain’s chemical processes, which works to maintain an overall chemical equilibrium. Opiates disrupt this delicate balance when abused, as well as when taken as prescribed.
Brain chemical alterations grow progressively worse the longer a person continues using the drug. Taking unusually large dosage amounts can also cause considerable disruption within the brain’s chemical processes. In effect, the dangers of opiates take on a snowball effect when abusing these drugs on a continual basis.
Ongoing changes within the brain will eventually impair a wide range of functions, some of which include:
- Thinking processes
- Heart function
- Respiratory function
- Body temperature regulation
- Emotional stasis
With ongoing use, the dangers of opiates cause bodily systems to deteriorate as the brain loses its ability to regulate essential bodily functions.
Widespread deterioration in brain function best depicts the dangers of opiates in terms of how these drugs diminish a person’s physical health and psychological well-being. Opiate abuse accounted for 475,000 emergency room admissions in 2009, double the number of emergency room admissions in 2005.
After so many months or years of ongoing use, the dangers of opiates become deadly as the risk of overdose increases. Once users reach this point, they’re playing a game of Russian Roulette with each successive dose of the drug.