Opium is the juice collected from the poppy plant known as Papaver somniferum and from which the main psychoactive alkaloid chemicals of morphine, codeine, and thebaine are extracted to make opiate pharmaceuticals. Heroin too, is processed from the morphine and in the U.S., most opium drug abuse involves prescription pain killers and heroin. Pure opium is rarely seen on the street.
Heroin is trafficked to the U.S. from several sources and usually comes in the form of a white or brown powder that is snorted, smoked, or injected intravenously. Some heroin coming from the southwest is in the form of a solid black substance that is sticky or hard to the touch and known on the street as “black tar heroin”. Heroin is one of the most potent and highly addictive drugs ever produced from opium.
Prescription Opiate Drugs
There are thousands of opiate drugs available in the U.S. and many are obtained fraudulently through theft, forgery, or “doctor shopping” and diverted to the street for sales. Prescription opiate drug abuse often leads to addiction and overdose occurrences.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were “22,810 deaths relating to pharmaceutical overdose in 2011, 16,917 (74%) involved opioid analgesics (also called opioid pain relievers or prescription painkillers). New laws and prescription monitoring programs have been enacted to reduce abuse of these drugs and increasingly, addicts are switching to the use of heroin as a cheaper, yet more potent, alternative.
Telltale Symptoms of Opium Abuse
When a person abuses opium drugs they exhibit several telltale symptoms that can easily be recognized and the physical symptoms include:
- Pinpointed pupils when high and dilated pupils during withdrawal
- Lethargy or “nodding off”
- Weight loss due to bad eating habits
- Sexual dysfunction
- Hyperactivity followed by fatigue
- Wearing long shirts or pants in hot weather to cover track marks
- Slurred speech
- Dry mouth and nose
- Frequent runny nose or teary eyes
- Repeated scratching or picking at skin
- Excessive fatigue
- Unusual or repeat episodes of nausea, vomiting, sweating, diarrhea, and chills
Psychological and behavioral symptoms that may be attributed to opiate abuse include:
- Cognitive impairments including declined concentration or inability to put things in order and memory loss
- Rapid mood swings – happy and boisterous when high, solemn and depressed when not
- Behavioral changes such as increased isolation or unusual behaviors to secretly obtain or use drugs
- Loss of interest in normal activities
- Mental health disturbances of anxiety, restlessness, depression, aggression, or agitation
- Disturbed sleep patterns