Types of Opioids

(CNN) - Every day, 136 people in the US die from an opioid overdose, according to the CDC. That includes both prescription and illicit drugs. That's nearly 4,100 people every 30 days, and nearly 50,000 every year. That's more people than live in the city of Maricopa. It's about 20% of population of Scottsdale.

What are opioids?

Opioids are drugs formulated to replicate the pain-reducing properties of opium. They include both legal painkillers like morphine, oxycodone, or hydrocodone prescribed by doctors for acute or chronic pain, as well as illegal drugs like heroin or illicitly made fentanyl. The word "opioid" is derived from the word "opium."

Opioids bind to receptors in the brain and spinal cord, disrupting pain signals. They also activate the reward areas of the brain by releasing the hormone dopamine, creating a feeling of euphoria or a "high."

In 2020, there were more than 93,000 overdose deaths in the United States, including 69,710 that involved an opioid, according to data from the CDC. That number is 2019 was 50,936.

"After a steady increase in the overall national opioid dispensing rate starting in 2006, the total number of prescriptions dispensed peaked in 2012 at more than 255 million and a dispensing rate of 81.3 prescriptions per 100 persons," explains the CDC. By 2019, the dispensing rate dropped to its lowest number in more than a decade -- a total of roughly 153 million prescriptions or 46.7 per 100 people.

Natural opioids

  • Morphine
  • Codeine

Opioids such as morphine and codeine are naturally derived from opium poppy plants more commonly grown in Asia, Central America and South America. 

Semi-synthetic opioids

  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (Percocet, OxyContin)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Oxymorphone
  • Heroin

"The most commonly used prescription opioids are oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, and morphine," according to DrugAbuse.gov. Heroin is an opioid [that's synthesized from morphine], but it is not a medication." 

Synthetic opioids

  • Fentanyl
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Tramadol
  • Levorphanol (Levo-Dromoran)
  • Methadone
  • Carfentanil

Fentanyl is a fully synthetic opioid, originally developed as a powerful anesthetic for surgery. It is also administered to alleviate severe pain associated with terminal illnesses like cancer. The drug is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Just a small dose can be deadly. Illicitly produced fentanyl has been a driving factor in the number of overdose deaths in recent years. It's often added to other illicit drugs to increase the potency, 

Methadone is another fully synthetic opioid. It is commonly dispensed to recovering heroin addicts to relieve the symptoms of withdrawal.

Carfentanil is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine and was created to tranquilize elephants. The DEA confirmed Arizona's first carfentanil death in April 2018.


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