This guide to synthetic opioids will highlight the many hazards of this fiercely addictive class of entirely manmade opioids.
CDC data shows that synthetic opioids aside from methadone were involved in over 36,000 overdose deaths in the United States in 2019. This makes synthetic opioids responsible for more fatalities than any other kind of opioid, accounting for over 73% of all deaths involving opioids in 2019, and representing a 15% increase on the previous year.
By 2020, these opioids were involved in over 56,000 overdose deaths, a 56% increase over 2019.
Overall, the rate of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids has increased by more than five times in the past five years.
One of the leading contributory factors to this huge upswing in deaths triggered by synthetic opioids is fentanyl.
According to law enforcement agency data, there have been a growing number of positive tests for fentanyl in the US since 2013, showing no correlation with prescribing rates and indicating that illegally manufactured fentanyl (IMF) is more culpable than pharmaceutical fentanyl for this third wave of the opioid epidemic.
What Are Synthetic Opioids?
Synthetic opioids is term used for the following classes of drug:
- Established synthetic opiates
- Newer, less researched drugs mirroring the effects of opiates
Manmade opioids like these are wholly synthesized in clandestine laboratories. Natural opioids, by contrast, are derived from the seed pods of the opium poppy.
All synthetic opioids target the same opioid receptors in the brain as natural opioids like morphine and codeine. In addition to powerful pain-relieving properties, synthetic opioids also deliver a sense of euphoria and sedation.
Some manmade opioids, most commonly fentanyl, are utilized for approved medical applications. This drug, while potentially deadly, is also highly effective when prescribed in small doses in a controlled setting.
Many synthetic opioids have no approved medical use, though. These include:
- Acetyl-fentanyl (fentanyl analogs)
While fentanyl can be used legally by medical professionals, fentanyl is increasingly making its way into heroin. Drug traffickers can produce fentanyl cheaply, using it as a bulking agent that also increases the potency of the product. Since fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin, more and more people are overdosing after taking what they considered a normal dose of heroin.
What is the Difference Between Opioids and Synthetic Opioids?
Natural opioids are substances that occur naturally, harvested from the seeds of certain varieties of opium poppy. These opioids act on the nerve receptors in your body, efficiently relieving pain. Also referred to as opiates, natural opioids include:
- Paramorphine (thebaine)
Synthetic opioids, by contrast, act on the same receptors in your body. The difference is that these substances are created entirely in laboratories. Fentanyl is the best-known example.
The other major category of opioids is semi-synthetic opioids. These are manmade opioids created in labs using natural opiates as a base. The most common semi-synthetic opioids are:
In addition to these types of opioids, the body also produces substances that are opioid-like. These are known as enkephalins and endorphins. Endogenous opioids like these produce a natural high and have no addictive properties. The reverse applies to all other opioids.
While all three opioid molecules will bind to naturally-occurring opioid receptors, both opiates and manmade opioids also work on the receptors within cells.
The abuse of these opioids unfolds similarly to the abuse of heroin or opioid-based prescription painkillers. Sustained use leads to tolerance rapidly building. As you need increasingly more synthetic opioids to deliver the same effects, so the risk of dependence and addiction in the form of opioid use disorder increases.
Despite the abuse of manmade opioids following the same patterns, the potency of this class of drug radically heightens the risk of fatal overdose.
In the event of overdose on synthetic opioids, you can expect similar effects to those of legal opioid painkillers, including:
- Suppressed breathing
- Cold, clammy skin
- Changes to pupil size
- Respiratory failure
If at least three of these symptoms present, it is a strong indicator of poisoning by synthetic opioids.
The risk of overdose is further increased if you mix manmade opioids with other opiates, benzodiazepines, or alcohol.
Examples of Synthetic Opioids
Some of the most common synthetic opioids are as follows:
- Acryl fentanyl
- Acetyl fentanyl
- Furanyl fentanyl
- Butyryl fentanyl
- 4-fluoroisobutyryl fentanyl
Opioid Addiction Treatment at The District Recovery Center
If you need help fighting an opioid addiction, our team at The District Recovery Center can provide you with the tools and assistance you need to achieve long-term sobriety. Call our experts today to learn more about how we can help you fight opioid addiction and the problems associated like opioid withdrawal, overdose, and more.