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Opiates and Origins of Treatment

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

March 15, 2024

Table of Contents

Opioids and opiates continue to wreak havoc across all segments of American society.
While it’s no surprise to hear about celebrities publicly wrestling with addiction and rehab, you might be surprised to learn that 78 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses, more than half of these caused by overdoses of prescription opioid painkillers.
Opioids is an umbrella term used for all substances that bind to the opioid receptors in your CNS (central nervous system). Opioids can occur naturally or they can be man-made. These are known as synthetic opioids.
Your brain produces endorphins, which are a variety of opioids.
Opiates are plant-derived opioids coming from the seeds of the opium poppy plant grown in Asia. These drugs include:

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  • Opium
  • Morphine
  • Codeine

Heroin is classified as a semi-synthetic opioid that is derived from morphine but chemically produced.
Synthetic opioids include:

  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Meperidine
  • Fentanyl

The terms opioid and opiate are often used interchangeably, so we hope the above clears up any confusion.
Given the addiction potential of all these substances, if you become dependent, you’ll likely need formal
opiate addiction treatment.

Treatment for Opiates

While effective opiate treatment certainly exists, it’s estimated that only 25% of those suffering from opioid use disorder seek and pursue treatment.
You can opt for either inpatient or outpatient treatment for opiate addiction, depending on your circumstances and the extent of your addiction. More serious addictions benefit from residential treatment for opiate addiction.
It’s commonplace to receive MAT (medically-assisted treatment) if you’re addicted to opiates or opioids. This modality combined the use of appropriate medication with behavioral therapies and counseling.
Medications are used both to help recalibrate your brain chemistry, and also to mitigate withdrawal symptoms. Other medications can be used to relieve cravings, while others can block the high delivered by opioids to inhibit future use.
As your body comes clean of opiates or opioids, you’re likely to experience harsh withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Bone pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Cold flashes
  • Involuntary limb movements

These symptoms should dissipate within a week or so. Many people recovering from opiate addiction find they experience problems with sleep and generalized irritability for the first few months of recovery. Don’t let this put you off, though. Things will only get worse if you stave off seeking treatment.
There’s no one fixed approach to detox that works well for all clients.
In the case of habitual heroin users, the synthetic opiate methadone is often prescribed. This is either taken orally or injected. The dose is tapered over the course of a week.
You sometimes find clonidine used in order to truncate withdrawal time and to mitigate physical withdrawal symptoms.
In most cases, treatment harnesses CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), as well as motivational interviewing.
Participation in 12-step groups is often effective.
These are the FDA-approved medications most commonly used when treating opiate addiction:

  • Methadone: Eases withdrawal symptoms and counters cravings in those addicted to opiates. There’s no euphoria triggered, and the medication is only available in regulated clinics.
  • Buprenorphine: This medication blocks the effects of opioids while also reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms
  • Naltrexone: Naltrexone also blocks the effects of opioids and prevents the euphoric feeling. It is available in pill form or as a monthly injection

According to NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse), MAT does not replace one addiction with another. The medication will reduce cravings for opiates while minimizing withdrawal symptoms. It will not get you high.

Benefits of Methadone for Opiate Addiction

First discovered in 1965 at the Rockefeller Institute, methadone was shown to strongly alleviate both cravings for opiates and the withdrawal symptoms that accompany discontinuing use.

Use of methadone over the following decades has helped to make reductions to the new HIV infection, death from overdose, and crime. Indeed, research is so robust that methadone was declared an essential drug by the world Health Organization.
To prevent the drug making its way onto the black market, methadone is administered in a clinical setting. Doses last from 24 to 36 hours.
There are very few side effects, and methadone can be used indefinitely. Estimates show that 25% of clients become abstinent after methadone treatment, 25% continue using opiates, and 50% fall somewhere between these two poles.
Now, how did we get to the stage that this class of drug has so badly damaged our society? For that, we’ll delve into the origins of opiates.

The Origins of Opiates

Opiates come from the seeds of the opium poppy. People have used these drugs for thousands of years, both medicinally and recreationally.
Morphine is the primary active ingredient in opium. This is named for the Greek dream god, Morpheus. While morphine is a powerful and efficient painkiller, it’s also remarkably addictive.

We know that opium poppies were grown in lower Mesopotamia as far back as 3400 BC. The Sumerians referred to the opium poppy as the joy plant.
Opium was acknowledged as a useful narcotic by Hippocrates some time around 460 BC. The father of modern medicine recommended drinking the juice of the poppy combined with nettle seeds.
Much later, Alexander the Great took opium along on his travels as he built his empire.
The Arabs, as well as the Greeks and Roman, used opium as a sedative. Over the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Arab traders exported opium to the Far East. It managed to quickly make its way to Europe from this waypoint. Here in Europe, opium was used to treat a range of psychological issues and illnesses.
 Over the sixteenth century, a new painkiller came into use: laudanum. Laudanum is opium prepared in a solution of alcohol.
It wasn’t until the start of the nineteenth century that morphine was extracted from opium in its pure form. This discovery led to the painkiller being widely used during the American Civil War, resulting in many soldiers developing an addiction to the drug.
By 1830, a French chemist, Jean-Pierre Robiquet, first isolated codeine. This is one of the less powerful compounds of opium, and it can be synthesized. Synthesized drugs are man-made rather than occurring naturally. The goal was to replace raw opium when required for medical applications. Codeine was mainly used as a cough remedy.
Over the early nineteenth century, there was a sharp uptick in opium being used recreationally. The First Opium War broke out between Britain and China, with Britain dispatching warships to the Chinese coast in retaliation to China’s attempts to chop the legs of the opium traffic.
The quest for a less addictive form of morphine ironically led to the creation of heroin. First synthesized in 1874, it was immediately apparent that heroin was twice the strength of morphine. The German pharmaceutical company Bayer sold heroin as a branded cough suppressant from 1898. The company stopped producing the drug after addiction became a growing problem.
The Opium Exclusion Act passed by Congress in 1909 banned any importation of opium intended for smoking. Many consider this to be the start of America’s fruitless war on drugs. By 1914, the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act taxed opiates nominally. The act also demanded that physicians and pharmacists register to distribute the drug. Essentially, the drug was prohibited.
While oxycodone might seem like a recent invention – this is one of the most commonly-used opioid painkillers, branded as OxyContin by the disgraced Purdue Pharma. This was developed by scientist’s at Germany’s University of Frankfurt. The aim was to retain heroin and morphine’s analgesic effects, but to jettison the physical dependence.
German scientists at IG Farben synthesized methadone in 1937 when looking for a painkiller that would be easier to use for the purposes of surgery, but without the addictive potential of heroin or morphine. Again, this didn’t work out so well. Although methadone is today used in opiate treatment, it’s believed by many to be even more addictive than heroin.
Despite all attempts to quash it, the trade in illegal opium continued to boom. Southeast Asia alone was producing over 2500 tons of opium each year by 1995.
The Heroin Act of 1924 may have impacted sales of heroin, but the medical community still held very mixed views when it came to opiates and addiction. We could argue that the same polarization remains today.
The FDA gained the power to oversee the safety of drugs along with food and cosmetics in 1938. This meant it was now necessary to prove a drug was safe before it could be sold. In spite of this, many drugs like codeine, oxycodone, and morphine, were still widely prescribed, despite the obvious risks and addiction potential.

Vicodin was a new painkiller that came to market in 1984 with full FDA approval. OxyContin followed in 1995, and Percocet in 1999. All of these and many more that followed are synthetic opiates. These are man-made opiates that mimic the painkillers in your body.
From these origins came the opioid epidemic that’s still sweeping the US today. What can you do if you find yourself in the grip of opioid addiction, then?

Opiate Addiction Treatment at Renaissance Recovery Center

Here at Renaissance Recovery, we can help you recover from opiate addiction, however long-lasting and however severe the addiction.
You’ll receive personalized care tailored to your circumstances, financial situation, and the severity of your addiction.
Evidence-based care for your opioid use disorder will include:

  • FDA-approved medications as appropriate
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Family therapy
  • 12-step programs
  • Contingency management

To get things started, call the friendly team today at 866.330.9449 and we’ll guide you every step of the way through your opiate addiction treatment at Renaissance Recovery.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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