Opiates are named because they are constituents or derivatives of alkaloids found in opium, which is processed from the latex sap of the opium poppy. The major biologically active opiates found in opium are morphine, codeine, and thebaine. Semi-synthetic opiates such as hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone, and oxymorphone are derived from these substances.

Opiates are a class of drugs that include morphine, heroin and many commonly prescribed pain relievers. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that opiates have pleasure-inducing and pain-relieving properties as well as tranquilizing effects; however, due to an increase in tolerance, they may become highly addictive when taken for an extended period of time.

The abuse of prescription painkillers and other opiates including heroin is on the rise in the U.S. The number of prescriptions written for opiates such as OxyContin , Demerol, Percocet and Vicodin has steadily increased in recent years and experts see a direct correlation between this and the incidents of abuse. Combining Opiates with alcohol or other drugs could lead to an overdose.

About 9% of the population is believed to misuse opiates over the course of their lifetime, including illegal drugs like heroin and prescription pain medications such as Oxycontin.

Opiates can cause physical dependency. This means that a person relies on the drug to prevent physical symptoms of withdrawal. Some people even withdraw from opiates after having them prescribed for pain while in the hospital without realizing what is happening to them. They often think they have the flu, and because they don’t know that opiates would relive the symptoms, they don’t crave the drug.

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