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What are Opiate Derivatives?

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Opiate drugs remain the most effective treatment for relieving pain symptoms of most any kind. Conditions involving back pain, post-surgery pain or just a plain old headache can all be treated using opiate drugs.

Opiate derivatives span across multiple groupings within the opiate drug class, with opiate derivatives making up the majority of opiate drugs in general. Over the past decade, scores of new drugs enter the market each year, many of which are opiate derivatives.

Opiate derivatives all come from the opium poppy plant in one way or another, with opium being the predecessor and/or template for all the drugs that follow. According to Palomar College, opium belongs to a class of drugs known as narcotic analgesics. In turn, most all opiate derivatives available today fall under the narcotic classification, which makes them highly addictive when not taken as prescribed.

Understanding how opiates and opiate derivatives interact with the body’s system can help save you a lot of heartache in terms of avoiding the pitfalls associated with opiate abuse and addiction.

The Opium Poppy Plant

opium plant

The opium poppy plant contains powerful pain-relieving properties.

The opium poppy plant, also known as Papaver somniferum, produces a milky latex sap consisting of a number alkaloids that carry powerful pain-relieving properties, according to Princeton University. From these alkaloids come the natural opiate substances, which include:

  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Thebaine
  • Oripavine
  • Opium
  • Heroin

Opiate derivatives may or may not contain natural opiates as many are synthetically made in labs. That being so, synthetic formulations are still modeled after the natural agents.

The human body houses its own pain management system made up of chemicals that share striking similarities with opiate alkaloids. These similarities account for why opiates do such a good job at relieving pain symptoms.

Unfortunately, the therapeutic benefits derived from opiates can just as easily drive a person to drug abuse and addiction under the right circumstances. Any drug capable of interacting with the body’s own chemical system poses a risk, and opiates most definitely fit the bill.

Mechanisms of Action

Opiates effects result from how these drugs interact with opioid cell sites. Opioid cell sites appear throughout the brain and central nervous system. In effect, most all opiate derivatives bind to these sites and trigger the release of endorphin chemicals, which play a central role in the body’s pain management system.

Opiate derivatives can vary in the way they interact with cell sites, which in turn produces different kinds of effects. According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, an opiate derivative can work in one of three ways:

  • As an opioid full agonist
  • As an opioid partial agonist
  • As an opioid antagonist

Full agonist derivatives activate cell site chemical secretions. This group includes the majority of opiate derivative drugs, all of which are highly addictive.

Opioid partial agonists interact with cell sites in two ways –

  • Activating chemical secretions
  • Blocking other opiates

Partial agonist drugs play an important role in opiate addiction treatment, especially in cases of severe and long-term addiction.

People recovering from severe addictions often experience ongoing drug cravings and withdrawal effects months after stopping drug use. Partial agonists provide considerable relief from these effects while at the same time blocking the effects of other opiates in the event of relapse.

Opioid antagonist derivatives are also used in addiction treatment. Antagonists have one sole purpose: to block the effects of other opiates. These drugs block cell site receptors without triggering endorphin secretions. In this way, someone who tries to use will be unable to get “high” due to the drug’s blocking effects.

Opiate Derivatives – Categories

In general, opiate derivatives can be categorized in two ways based on:

  • Chemical structure
  • Uses

Chemical structure has to do with whether or not a particular drug type contains natural opiate ingredients. Drugs derived from natural compounds fall under the semisynthetic category of opiates, some of which include:

  • Oxycodone – derived from thebaine
  • Oxymorphone – also derived from thebaine
  • Hydrocodone – derived from codeine
  • Hydromorphone – derived from morphine

Most semisynthetic compounds include a non-opiate ingredient, such as ibuprofen, aspirin or acetaminophen. These ingredients intensify the drug’s analgesic effects as well as the potential for abuse and addiction.

Synthetically made opiates contain no natural opiate ingredients. As synthetic agents, drugs in this category produce a wide spectrum of analgesic effects and can be specifically made to treat certain types of conditions. Some of the more commonly used drugs in this category include:

  • Sufentanil
  • Fentanyl
  • Methadone
  • Loperamide
  • Tramadol
  • Nalbupine
  • Pentazocine

Categories based on drug uses not only address pain symptoms, but also other types of ailments:

  • For severe pain – hydromorphone, morphine
  • For anesthesia purposes – alfentanil, fentanyl
  • For moderate, severe acute and chronic pain symptoms – codeine, oxycodone, methadone
  • For persistent cough – hydrocodone, codeine
  • For diarrhea – diphenoxylate, loperamide

Interestingly enough, certain types of opiate derivatives can also be used as medication therapies for treating opiate addiction. These drugs include:

  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine
  • Naloxone
  • LAMM
  • Naltrexone

Opiate Derivative Effects

According to the Institute for Substance Abuse Treatment Evaluation, opiate derivative effects work to slow chemical interactions within the brain and central nervous system, which ultimately slows all bodily processes. In terms of their analgesic properties, opiates’ ability to increase endorphin secretions has a slowing effect on nerve signal transmissions sent to the brain.

Opiate effects on endorphin chemical levels also affect other bodily systems besides pain perception. Other systems affected include:

  • Cardiovascular system
  • Respiratory system
  • Gastrointestinal functions
  • Body temperature
  • Cognitive functions

When taken as prescribed, opiates pose little risk to normal brain and body functions. When abused, any one of the above major bodily systems can be affected in adverse ways.

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