Opiates Facts

Opioids or opiates are any narcotic alkaloids from immature pods of the Papaver somniferum (opium poppy).  These are considered to be the world’s oldest recognized drug.  This was discovered and used even during the prehistoric eras in the Mediterranean area. The ancient Romans and Greeks believed this drug as the ultimate panacea and it appeared in their Greek pharmacopeia as early as the 5th century BC. With the expansion of Islam, opioid use was spread from Turkey to the other parts of the world. It was the Arab traders in the 8th century BC who introduced this to the Indians and Chinese. When the Chinese emperor prohibited the smoking of tobacco in 1644, the Chinese changed to opium smoking. When the Arabs traded with Vienna, they also introduced opium to the Europeans.

At present, opioids are used to treat moderate to severe pain, severe diarrhea, and anxiety with shortness of breath, cough suppression and opioid dependence (buprenorphine and methadone). Unfortunately, these drugs are one of the most commonly abused drugs worldwide. The opioids stimulate the brain to release “euphoric” chemicals that would eventually lead to dependence and abuse.


Opioids are classified into four general classes:

  1. Endogenous opioid peptides, those that are produced naturally by the body
  2. Opium alkaloids
  3. Semi-synthetic opioids
  4. Fully synthetic opioids

These drugs are used to manage acute pain and are effective in alleviating severe, persistent disabling pain associated with degenerative conditions (rheumatoid arthritis) and cancer. Cough suppression and severe diarrhea especially those related with irritable bowel syndrome are also prescribed these drugs.

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