The Most Widely Abused Opiates in America

28 Feb The Most Widely Abused Opiates in America

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The United States is currently embroiled in an epidemic of opiate abuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 2 million Americans are suffering from opiate addictions to prescription painkillers, and almost half a million are dealing with heroin use disorders. In the past twenty years, drug overdoses in this country have quadrupled – and 60% of those overdoses have involved an opioid.

Education is the key to stemming the tide of opiate dependence. Having a strong understanding of the dangers of prescription drug abuse can be a key factor in turning the tide of this epidemic. Let’s investigate the most commonly abused opiates in America, and find out how to break the cycle of opioid addiction.

What Are Opiates?

There is a slight, but distinct difference between opiates and opioids. Opiates are naturally occurring compounds that are found in the opium poppy plant. In general, the term “opiates” refers to a drug that is procured directly from the plant, such as morphine or codeine, whereas “opioids” are synthetic derivatives that are produced in a laboratory. But when they’re ingested, both opiates and opioids function in the same exact way: by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain and blocking pain messages from the rest of the body. Both opiates and opioids are known to be powerful enough to result in some sort of prescription drug abuse if not taken seriously.

Due to their pain-relieving abilities, opiates are extremely important in providing comfort to those who are suffering from debilitating illnesses and chronic pain. However, they also provide a euphoric feeling similar to a morphine high – and for people who are prone to substance abuse, prolonged and improper use of these painkillers can often lead to a devastating opiate dependence or opioid overdose.

Commonly Abused Opiates and Opioids

Here are some of the most widely abused opiates and opioids as reported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

  • OxyContin. Designed as a long-acting, high-dosage pain reliever for the chronically ill, those who abuse OxyContin often crush up the pill and snort or inject it to bypass the timed-release formula – thus consuming huge quantities of oxycodone at one time.
  • Fentanyl. A powerful synthetic opioid that packs a punch, fentanyl is 100 times stronger than morphine – making it one of the most potent painkillers on the market. Because of its super strength, people who abuse fentanyl are at a high risk of overdose and often abuse it rather than intending to use it as a pain reliever.
  • Vicodin. Otherwise known as hydrocodone, Vicodin is one of the most commonly prescribed prescription opioids in the country. This may also account for the fact that it’s the most commonly abused opioid, as well.
  • Codeine. When consumed in large quantities, codeine can provide the same euphoric high as other opiates. Because it’s often prescribed as a cough syrup, people who abuse codeine will mix it with other liquids, such as soda.
  • Heroin. Made from the opium poppy plant, heroin is refined into a powder which is then snorted or injected into the bloodstream. Unlike the other opioids in this list, heroin is illicit, meaning it can only be obtained through illegal means.

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From Opioid Abuse to Heroin Abuse

In recent years, America has seen a spike in the number of people abusing heroin. The emergence of heroin addiction has been linked directly to the increase in prescription opioid abuse. People will often begin by using painkillers, such as Vicodin or OxyContin. While some people take them purely for recreational purposes, others may start with a valid prescription for pain management which quickly escalates into an opioid dependence.

Because heroin is cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription opioids, those in need of a fix may find themselves seeking out heroin as an alternative. Not only is it less expensive than prescription painkillers, but it provides the same exact high. But intravenous heroin abuse puts users at a much higher risk of HIV, hepatitis C, and other deadly bloodborne illnesses.

The Dangers of Opioid Abuse

Prescription opioid abuse can ruin your health, damage your relationships, and destroy your life. Some of the short-term and long-term consequences of opioid abuse are:

  • Nausea, vomiting, and constipation.
  • Confusion and poor judgment.
  • Sudden mood swings.
  • Financial, legal, or interpersonal struggles.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Respiratory suppression.

And for those who’ve been using opiates for a long time, the physical dependence makes it nearly impossible to stop using without experiencing painful, and sometimes dangerous, withdrawal symptoms.

Georgia Drug Detox Can Help

If you’re suffering from an opiate dependence and you’re ready to kick the habit, you may be worried about how to deal with the pain of withdrawal. At Georgia Drug Detox, our treatment programs can alleviate that discomfort with medication, counseling, and round-the-clock support. Your health is our number one concern, and our medical staff will give you personalized, one-on-one care to address all your needs.


“Opioid Crisis Fast Facts.” CNN. 17 Jan. 2019. 13 Mar. 2019.

“Commonly Abused Drug Chart.” NIH. July 2018. 13 Mar. 2019.

“Most Commonly Used Addictive Drugs” NIH. 13 Mar. 2019.


Contact us today if you or a loved one is battling an opiate addiction, contact us today to speak to a qualified admissions specialist 678-293-9115.

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