There are many drugs to which a person can become addicted. In fact, there are even a number of behaviors that research has found can be quite addictive and disruptive to one’s daily life and health. Even so, more often than not when we consider the disease of addiction, we think of alcohol and drugs, each of which come with particular effects and a specific set of risks. While all mind-altering, chemical substances are dangerous, there is surely a degree of variability; some substances—such as marijuana, which isn’t considered a lethal drug—don’t put an individual’s life in immediate jeopardy, but even less lethal substances often have other implications. However, the majority of the drugs to which people are addicted today can very easily become deadly.
Individuals who suffer from substance abuse disorders and addiction tend to compare themselves to other addicts. Each addict thinks about his or her drug of choice and the severity of his or her addiction, deciding that he or she isn’t all that bad off. Oftentimes, these individuals tell themselves that since they’ve been in active addiction for an extended period of time without dying, the substance to which they are addicted couldn’t be all that dangerous.
There’s also a tendency for addicts to justify or rationalize their addictions by saying that the substances to which they are addicted aren’t as dangerous as other substances. This is particularly common among individuals who are addicted to opiate painkillers; in particular, they say that they’re not in immediate peril because instead of being addicted to heroin, they abuse mere painkillers, which are technically a legal substance. As such, this perspective has led many to ask the following question: Is a painkiller addiction really any better than heroin addiction?
Prescription Pills & Heroin: Are All Opioids Created Equal?
To understand the difference between heroin and opiate painkillers, one must know where these sorts of drugs came from and how they were created. Additionally, one must understand the difference between opioids and opiates. According to the most common current usages, opioid refers to any opium-like substances, which includes both heroin as well as morphine and all other painkillers, while opiate tends to refer to morphine and other painkillers. However, each of these substances owe its existence to the opium poppy, from which opium is derived. Opium is a powerful drug that’s been used for both medicinal and recreational purposes for thousands of years. More recently, it was used to create morphine as well as heroin, which was originally intended to be a stronger version of morphine that would be used to treat a cough.
Heroin was soon determined to be too powerful and too addictive with a very high potential for abuse, resulting in it being removed from medicinal use and classified as an illegal substance. Conversely, morphine maintained its medical applications and was the basis from which many other synthetic and semi-synthetic opiates were created, resulting in the wide range of painkillers that we have today such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, oxymorphone, codeine, and many others. Many of these narcotic opiates would be as powerful or nearly as powerful as heroin if they were left in their pure form, but the majority of painkillers dilute the substances with things like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, which serves to keep the therapeutic utility of such substances while making it easier to control their strength. However, heroin and the various opioids are very similar on both a basic, molecular level as well as in their effects. The primary differences are actually social, cultural, and technical in nature.
Social Differences Between Opiate Painkillers & Heroin
Saying that the difference between heroin and painkillers is cultural or social may sound like an odd statement, but when explained it begins to make a lot of sense. Since heroin is decidedly an illegal, or illicit, substance, procuring it involves a very specific web of connections. A heroin user must find someone who can supply the heroin, and that individual must find his or her own supplier who can offer the drug in significant quantities. Being illegal, the buying and selling of heroin must be done very secretively, or else all parties involved in the transaction risk criminal consequences.
By comparison, opiate painkillers are not illegal and can be obtained through accessible, legal channels. For a substance abuser with some patience, one must only find a pain management clinic with a reputation for being generous with painkiller prescriptions, in which case one’s doctor and pharmacist are one’s drug dealers. However, the process is very similar for both heroin and opiates and even obtaining painkillers legally is risky. With the prescription drug monitoring programs implemented in almost all states, the prescribing and dispensing of opiate painkillers is very carefully monitored so that individuals who are thought to be diverting or abusing controlled substances can be readily identified.
Opioid Addiction & Effects on the Body
When it comes to the effects of heroin and opiate painkillers, the difference is nominal. Perhaps the main difference between heroin and prescription medications in terms of the effects on the body would be the risk of intravenous heroin users contracting diseases by sharing hypodermic syringes with other users. Opiate painkillers are typically either consumed orally or by insufflation—snorting through the nose—which all but eliminates the risk of transmitting diseases from user to user. However, the other effects of the drugs are comparable. Both heroin and opiate painkillers act as depressants on the body, causing a spike in neurochemicals that cause euphoria and prevent the brain from sending pain signals. In other words, opioids effectively numb the body and mind.
Additionally, addiction works much the same way for both heroin and opioids with withdrawal being considered especially severe, making it necessary for individuals to detox from opioids in a supervised detox program. Overall, the differences between heroin and opiate painkillers is minimal and should deter individuals from thinking that choosing to abuse prescription pain medication over heroin is a form of harm reduction.
Drug Treatment Center Finder Can Help You Regain Your Sobriety
As a class of drug, opioids are highly addictive and incredibly dangerous. Time and again, these medications are considered one of the most difficult drugs to overcome, which is why it’s important for individuals suffering from opioid addiction to find quality, evidence-based opioid addiction treatment programs. If you or someone you love is suffering from opioid addiction or some other form of dependency, call Drug Treatment Center Finder at 1-855-619-8070. We have a team of recovery specialists available for free consultations and assessments. Don’t wait another day to begin your recovery journey.