Opiates are derivatives of alkaloids found in opium, processed from the latex sap of the opium poppy. Biologically active opiates found in opium consist of morphine, codeine, and thebaine. Semi-synthetic opiates derived from these substances include hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone, and oxymorphone.

Opiates are a class of drugs that include commonly prescribed pain relievers, morphine, and heroin. The National Institute on Drug Abuse describes opiates as having pleasure-inducing, or tranquilizing pain-relieving effects. Opiates may become highly addictive due to increases in tolerance when take for extended periods of time.

In the United States, the abuse of prescription painkillers and other opiates including heroin is on the rise. A steady increase in the number of prescriptions written for opiates such as OxyContin, Demerol, Percocet and Vicodin, shows a direct correlations between this and the incidents of abuse. Overdoses can occur due to the combination of opiates with alcohol or other drugs.

It is estimated that approximately 9% of the population will misuse opiates over the course of their lifetime, including illegal drugs like heroin and prescription pain medications such as Oxycontin.

Opiates can also cause physical dependency, so that the user will rely on the drug to prevent physical symptoms of withdrawal from occurring. Sometimes people withdraw from opiates without even knowing, such as after having them prescribed for pain relief while in the hospital. These people often think they have the flu, not realizing it’s withdrawal, but they do not crave the drug because they do not know that more opiates would relive the symptoms.

Early withdrawal symptoms include: agitation, anxiety, muscle aches, increased tearing, insomnia, runny nose, sweating and yawning. Late withdrawal symptoms include: abdominal cramping, diarrhea, dilated pupils, goose bumps, nausea, and vomiting.