Drugs Are Becoming More Dangerous Than Ever Before

Drugs Are Becoming More Dangerous Than Before

Illicit drugs and substances are nothing new, but there is a rising danger present especially in prescription drugs, designer drugs, and heroin, that hasn’t been as prevalent or widespread in the past. As the opioid epidemic continues in the US and Canada, and tens of thousands continue to die, more and more evidence is showing that a sizeable portion of overdose deaths are due to cut and mixed drugs, often sold as pure drugs or unused prescription medication, yet pressed illegally with a dangerous cocktail of various substances in an effort to reduce costs and drive up profits.

It’s not enough to recognize what Xanax, Oxycontin, and Ecstasy look like. Often sold as such but mixed with several other dangerous substances, many illicit drugs sold today are contributing to a rising death toll throughout the country. Even for experienced drug users, or those who have just begun using illegal drugs recreationally, the chances of an accidental overdose increase with every pill.

Particularly dangerous are the synthetic opioid fentanyl and the veterinary tranquilized carfentanil, both of which are so highly potent that mere milligrams are enough to kill a grown adult human. These substances are often improperly mixed into batches of other drugs in order to increase their potency at a low financial cost, but at a high cost of life. While there has never been a good reason to use illegal and/or harmful substances recreationally, drugs have indeed become more dangerous than ever before.


The Opioid Epidemic is Ongoing

While news coverage has dipped in recent months outside of high-profile examples of lawsuits and bankruptcies filed by major companies implicated in the origins of the opioid crisis, the reality remains that the opioid epidemic is alive and well in the United States and Canada.

North America remains the world’s largest consumer of opioids by far, both medically and recreationally, in no small part due to the vast success of numerous efforts made by companies in the 1990s to sell more painkillers and diagnose pain as a treatable condition, especially through pharmacology.

While numerous regulations have helped cut down on the number of pain prescriptions currently being written, the problem has continued to swell in the form of growing amounts of heroin use, especially on the eastern side of the country, while the west coast continues to struggle with recreational prescription drug use. Although opioids are not the only illicit drugs causing overdoses and deaths in the United States, they are responsible for the majority of deaths caused by illegal substances.

An estimated 11.4 million Americans misused prescription opioids in 2017 and 2018, with 2.1 million cases opioid use disorder, and roughly 47,000 deaths caused by opioid overdose, over half of which (28,466) were caused by synthetic opioids other than methadone (which include drugs like fentanyl, usually reserved only for terminal cancer pain).


Fentanyl: How Heroin is Made Even Deadlier

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid analogous to morphine, yet about 50 to 100 times more potent. Synthetic opioids are drugs that interact with opioid receptors in the body yet are not derived from our usual source of opioids, the poppy plant.

While drugs like morphine and heroin were first derived from opium and created to serve as analgesics and anesthetics, often ingested in liquid form, fentanyl was developed into a medical product by way of slow-release skin patches.

Like heroin, codeine, hydrocodone, and other opioids, fentanyl enters the bloodstream and latches onto opioid receptors in cells, triggering an analgesic and euphoric effect. However, its potency means that very little is needed to trigger an overdose, which can cause unconsciousness, slowed breathing, and death.

Legally, fentanyl is used in cases of extreme and debilitating chronic pain, as well as terminal care. Illegally, however, it has been used to reduce the cost and increase the potency of other drugs, including other opioids like heroin, and other illicit substances. Outside of legal substances like alcohol and nicotine, fentanyl is counted as one of, if not the most lethal illicit substance in American history. Like other components used in the production of heroin and designer drugs, fentanyl is imported illegally into the US or Mexico, where it’s used in the production of drugs.


Fake Prescription Drugs and Accidental Overdoses

Not limited to heroin and cocaine, fentanyl is also mixed into fake prescription drugs, which are pressed from the real thing and a number of other substances designed to drive down the cost of production and improve profits. However, this can lead to even more disastrous effects.

While only a small amount of fentanyl is needed to kill the average person, the amount mixed into a single batch is often very low. However, poor mixing practices and no real standards can cause a single pill or hit to be fatal, and the slightest miscalculation on the user’s part (who often doesn’t know they’re consuming fentanyl) can lead to death.

This is further complicated in cases where the drug is mixed into benzodiazepines, tranquilizers, or other depressants. These drugs cause a compound effect with opioids, more often leading to an accidental overdose due to how the brain reacts to the combination of a depressant with an opioid.

When users survive a brush with death and realize that it’s the fentanyl that gave them such a powerful high, some of them actually turn to it as their drug of choice. This, of course, is very dangerous.


Ecstasy and MDMA, and How They Are Different

MDMA is a psychoactive substance colloquially known as ecstasy, yet the two are often very different.

While MDMA is currently being researched under limited capacity as a drug with potential to help treat anxiety and post-traumatic stress, many examples of ecstasy out on the streets today include only a small amount of MDMA, along with a larger cocktail of other substances. Recently, these pills have even included substances like fentanyl.

Regardless of what therapeutic potential pure MDMA may have, ecstasy has become more dangerous than ever. Like other illegal drugs, there are no standards for safety or quality.

Enjoying Music Festivals Sober

Going to Music Festivals Sober

Music festivals seem synonymous with drugs and debauchery. If you’re not going to let loose in what is essentially a weekend-long party with no real break, then when are you going to let loose?

But as plenty of people have found, you really don’t need to be high or drunk to enjoy a music festival. You just need an open mind, a love for music, and a few sober friends.

While the urge to drop any and all inhibitions during a music festival might be at an all-time high – not to speak of the peer pressure of seeing thousands of strangers imbibing in what’s sure to look like a good time, at first – there’s a lot of magic hidden in a music festival for those willing to hold out and stick to their sobriety.


Sex, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll. Right?

The drug use at music festivals isn’t random. There’s a history and a culture to drugs and music. In a way, not joining can feel alienating at first – be it marijuana, heroin, cocaine, or ecstasy, every period in contemporary American music has had its fair share of illicit substances associated to it.

But there’s much more to music than drugs, to be sure. And music festivals are about much more than carnal indulgence – they’re about music, and the way you feel when engulfed and surrounded by the music you enjoy, played live, in a crowd of thousands who share your enthusiasm. It’s infectious in its own way and helps speak towards the real strongest reason for attending a music festival – for the unforgettable memories you’ll make on that magical trip.


The Memories, or Lack Thereof

There’s plenty to experience in a music festival. Plenty to see, and do, and of course, hear. While the music is one thing, there’s something amazing about the way people react to it. While we might not admit it, most of us love being in an ecstatic crowd – it pulls you in, and you feel united in your enjoyment, hundreds and thousands of perfect strangers (and, hopefully, a lot of friends) experiencing the same amazing vibes.

It’s common to see people having a few drinks while they’re dancing, or other substances. But people often go overboard. And that’s when the fun can quickly end, both for the person who overindulged and the friends who have to keep their friend safe. What could have been an incredible experience turns into a cautionary tale, often with no real recollection of the magic left.

Struggling to remember what happened – if there’s much left worth remembering – isn’t the only danger. There’s also the danger of just feeling sick, not agreeing with the substances taken, or getting plain ill. In the worst cases, your problems turn to death. For some, it’s hard to stop once they start – and there’s a considerable risk in trying to maintain a high for an entire festival.


There Will Be Temptation

There is a good chance you’ll have to spend some time convincing strangers (and, under certain circumstances, even friends) that you’re definitely better off sober, and don’t want what they’re offering. Caffeine and genuine enthusiasm are all you’re really going to need, and chances are people are going to suspect you’re on something anyway.

The good news is that, as you ignore the temptations, you start to feel more accomplished about your choice, and your ability to withstand these impulses.


Tips for Staying Sober 

Sobriety at a music festival is far from impossible, and it can be a lot of fun. But you’re going to need to arm yourself with a few tips and tricks, particularly if you’re a newcomer to sobriety and need help staying sober.

If it’s your first time being completely clean at a music festival, get ready for a unique and new experience. Bring your friends, bring plenty of snacks and drinks, and bring a lot of patience – as fun as music festivals can be, there are plenty of things to get annoyed about, and it’s a bit harder to ignore them when you’re not tipsy or high.


#1.: Keep Your Friends Close By

Music festivals are much more fun with the right company – but it’s important to keep the right company. You don’t need to walk around with a sober-only posse, but make sure your friends understand your choice to stay sober and support it wholeheartedly.

But if they’re going to mock your sobriety, or make you feel bad for your choices, or even try to make you use something or drink, ditch them. Don’t go to music festivals with friends that don’t understand why you want to stay clean.


#2.: Enjoy the Music

Music festivals are about the music, and at the end of the day, the most fun you’ll be having revolves around being able to experience absolutely everything around you – from the bass in the floor, to the crowd, the visuals, the dancing, and more.

Note that, when you’re sober, some things can seem much more annoying. Bathroom lines can be long, people can be loud, and while some of your friends are probably funny when tipsy, there will be a large share of annoying drunks. Knowing to focus on the fun parts of the festival is important.


#3.: Stay Hydrated and Take Breaks

Music festivals are often physically daunting, and because you’re having such fun, it’s unlikely that you’ll notice just how much you’re going through. However, it’s much easier to tell how you’re feeling physically while sober. Always keep some water on you and know to take breaks when you need to.

From just tiring yourself out, to suffering from signs of hidden dehydration, there’s plenty that can happen in the hours spent dancing and having fun at a music festival.

While it’s sure to be an unforgettable experience, it’s important to stay safe. Music festivals have their fair share of health and security issues, and personal safety is everyone’s responsibility.


Complications from Having Both a Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Complications from Drugs and Alcohol

While alcohol is a drug, its ubiquity, legality, and nature as a ‘social lubricant’ often sets it apart from other substances, yet we often forget how dangerous alcohol is – especially in conjunction with other drugs.

While alcohol is one of the more commonly abused drugs in the country, many who abuse it also use a second, third, or even fourth substance – and while they might not be addicted to all the substances they use, there is a considerable and unique challenge in polysubstance drug use, and subsequent dependence.

For one, using more than one drug makes it difficult for health professionals to determine a cause for the many potential physical and mental effects of drug use, in no small part due to the way illicit drugs and alcohol often interact in dangerous and volatile ways. Another issue is the matter of addiction treatment, and the dangers that can arise during withdrawal as a result of polysubstance use.


Polysubstance Dependence – How Common Is It? 

An estimated 9.4 percent of Americans struggle with substance use disorder. A study among 10th graders found that marijuana abuse and alcohol use was most prevalent, with the second-most common illicit drug being prescription medication, followed by other illicit drugs. 14 percent identified as polysubstance users, using three substances. In other age groups and studies, higher numbers were found.

Among adults aged 18 and older, an estimated 2.3 million use both alcohol and an illicit drug. That accounts for about one in nine persons with substance use disorder (addiction).

Reasons for polysubstance use may vary. Alcohol is the most commonly abused drug because it is typically the most commonly used drug, and heavy use increases the risk for substance use disorder.

Alcohol is readily available for purchase in many different forms, and alcohol use is not heavily stigmatized, and has even come to the accepted or expected under certain circumstances. The history behind alcohol use is ancient, tracing back to the precivilization era. Alcohol’s abundance in nature is such that it is one of few drugs that other mammals indulge in.

In part due to its legalization, lasting subculture, and the popularity of the drug for its potential medicinal use, marijuana is the most used illicit drug among Americans. The combination of alcohol and marijuana is the most common.

Behind marijuana is prescription medication, particularly opioids and stimulants. Opioid abuse began to explode in the 1990s, especially after aggressive lobbying and marketing from the pharmaceutical industry led to an increased demand for pain medication, and a steep increase in prescriptions. At the time, it was not commonly known that opioid medication could be as dangerous as heroin.

One particular scandal with repercussions to this day is Purdue’s push for OxyContin, which led to the greatest abuse of prescription medication in the world. As a result, America consumes the majority of the world’s opioid supply.

While the opioid crisis continues to rage on, more stringent policies have led to prescription medication use to decline. Instead, a new concern is fentanyl-laced heroin, which is cheaper to produce and leads to far more overdose deaths. Many who began using prescription opioids have since moved on to using heroin, because it has become more expensive and more difficult to find prescription painkillers.


Polysubstance Use Is More Dangerous Than Single Substance Use

While single substance use has a substantial list of risks and potential long-term side effects, including dependence, the use of more than one drug heavily compounds potential issues.

The most obvious risk is the increased risk of dependence. The more a drug is used, the more likely a person is to trigger or develop an addiction. Addiction is a physical disease of the brain, a condition caused by a series of internal (genetic) and external (environmental) factors. Unlike heavy use or binge use, addiction is determined not by the extent or amount of a person’s drug use, but their dependence on a drug, and their ability (or lack thereof) to function without the drug.

Another risk is the fact that alcohol interacts with other substances. The most dangerous of these are anti-anxiety drugs, which include uncommonly prescribed as well as outlawed tranquilizers and barbiturates, and more recent anti-anxiety medication such as benzodiazepine (Xanax, Valium). Because these drugs are depressants, just like alcohol, their combined use can lead to deadly consequences including overdose and death. Opioids from heroin to codeine elicit a similar effect in combination with alcohol.

Alcohol’s combined use with other drugs also leads to an increased amount of stress on the body and organs, potentially accelerating damage dealt to the liver, kidneys, heart, and brain. Side effects can include strokes, heart attacks, liver cirrhosis, and a variety of cancers from the throat to the pancreas.


Drugs and Alcohol Are Equally Dangerous

Because alcohol is ubiquitous and more widely consumed, there is potentially the thought that it is not as dangerous as other drugs. But as mentioned previously, it can be deadly in combination with other drugs, particularly prescription medication and heroin.


Polysubstance Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms kick in when the brain and body begin to develop a tolerance to a drug, leading to decreased effectiveness per dose. The body effectively metabolized the drug faster, and its effects become less obvious.

Once this process begins, abruptly quitting can potentially cause the body to exhibit withdrawal symptoms as the drug has become ‘expected’.

Withdrawal symptoms are often more severe when the body begins to form a physical dependence to more than one substance. Typical withdrawal symptoms depend on the drug used and range from nausea and vomiting to flu-like symptoms, mood swings, psychosis, and pain. When alcohol is combined with other drugs, withdrawal symptoms can be potentially more severe. Alcohol and other depressants are also unique among most drugs in that they can produce fatal withdrawal symptoms in very serious cases of long-term substance use.

Treating a withdrawal should ideally always include medical supervision. While these symptoms can be weathered at home in most cases, they often drive one to use again and relapse due to intense cravings, and when multiple drugs are used, it’s difficult to predict the outcome of the withdrawal.


Bottom Line

Drug use is never safe. But polysubstance use is particularly dangerous and presents a unique set of challenges due to a variety of factors, including the increase physical and mental risk associated with the combining of substances.


Understanding the Addictive Nature of Prescription Drugs

Understanding the Addictive Nature of Prescription Drugs

Given the widespread news and information on the opioid crisis, it is no longer a surprise that prescription drugs can be dangerous, particularly if misused or used for non-medical purposes. But it’s all too easy to write all prescription drugs off as ‘too dangerous to be used’, especially in this climate.

We tend to heavily lean towards one or the other extreme on many issues, and opioid overdoses is one of them. Rather than vilify all opioids, for example, most experts on the crisis would rather than increased public literacy on the matter of prescription drugs will help people and doctors make better choices when faced with a disorder or disease that may warrant prescription medication.

This has become a form of stigma in some cases. While most are aware of the existing stigma against those struggling with mental health issues, a new form of stigma has been slowly rising against the use of medication for the treatment of mental health problem. The misuse of ADHD medication is serious. But treatment is still important. Both children in need of help and adults who feel that ADHD is only a childhood disorder don’t get the help they need to thrive.

Proper discourse surrounding prescription drugs needs to consider how they can be dangerous, addictive, and even lethal, without forgetting that they do play a role in helping millions of Americans lead better lives. Nuance and context are important, particularly in such complex topics.


How Medicine Can Be Addictive

For most people, addiction is very poorly understood. It’s not so much that there are Bad Drugs and Good Drugs. Rather, there are addictive drugs and non-addictive drugs. Some addictive drugs serve no real medical purpose, but most do. Many that are still illegal continue to be researched for their potential medical benefits. Some drugs are wrongfully vilified as addictive, but are illegal for other reasons, and may be made legal in certain cases (for example, hallucinogens may prove helpful in treating trauma and anxiety).

Drugs are chemicals and have no moral compass. As such, it’s important not to mistake all good drugs (medication) as being wholly beneficial and much less dangerous to the human body. In the same way, it’s important to recognize that two of the arguably most dangerous drugs in the world (alcohol and tobacco) are completely legal and readily available to most people in the world.

As dangerous as addiction is, there’s more to addiction than the drug itself. While widespread availability is one of the reasons why drugs such as alcohol and tobacco are commonly used, there are countless other much more complex reasons that often feed and further fuel addiction that need to be taken account, such as a lack of education, constant academic or professional pressure, lack of employment, economic woes, family stress, and more. No one case can be blamed entirely on ‘the drink’, as these countless factors all contribute to addiction and make it so much more difficult to treat.

In the case of prescription medication, more must be done to ensure that teens and adults alike understand the dangers of prescription drug misuse, and that just because it comes in an orange vial doesn’t mean it’s any less dangerous than a bag of cocaine or tar heroin. In many cases, parents and communities should focus heavily on catching warning signs of addictive behavior and stopping someone before their habit goes out of control. If a teen or adult is in danger of turning to drugs as a way to cope, they must understand that it’s okay to get professional help instead of self-medicating, with disastrous results.


The Effects of Prescription Drugs on the Brain

Addictive prescription drugs are addictive because of the way they manipulate the availability and effectiveness of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. Most psychoactive chemicals affect neurotransmission – even coffee, to a degree – but addictive drugs are deemed such because the effect they have on the brain is so strong, and so specific to certain neurotransmitters, that the brain begins to form an attachment to the drug after a certain number of times.

Prescription drugs are less addictive to those who need them, partially because of the strictly regulated dosage, and partially because their brains respond very differently to the drug versus people who don’t need them.

Over time, what starts as a powerful high can lead to drug dependence, wherein both the body and the mind begin to struggle with staying sober. Withdrawal symptoms kick in, causing cravings and headaches when not high. As time passes, tolerance calls for stronger doses, further feeding the addiction and increasing the risk of overdose. The mechanics differ from drug to drug, and different drugs are addictive for different reasons.


Treating Prescription Drug Addiction While in Treatment

In the cases that an individual gets addicted to a drug that is specifically prescribed to them for their condition, alternatives must be thoroughly explored. Prescription medication is often considered a first line treatment for a variety of conditions: opioids for extreme pain, stimulants for ADHD, depressants for severe anxiety disorders, and anti-psychotics for schizophrenia and other disorders. While other treatments may be more effective in certain cases, prescription medication boasts a widespread level of effectiveness, and is often easier to prescribe than a treatment that requires scheduling, complex financing options, or other speedbumps.

However, in some cases, patients misuse or overuse their medication. It’s then that other treatments must be seriously considered. In cases where patients are struggling with a dual diagnosis, a multimodal approach is necessary. That means treating the addiction and the illness/disorder concurrently. Examples include going through rehab while undergoing therapy or visiting an outpatient treatment center and a mental health clinic at the same time.

Prescription drug use is a complex matter, and it’s made much more complex when a patient is abusing their own medication. But through early intervention, the right treatment plan, and proper support from friends and family, both the addiction and the underlying condition can often be treated.


Understanding How Drugs Impact Your Health

How Drugs Impact Your Health

To most people, it’s clear that drug use is a bad thing both for society and for individuals. But while many people draw clear connections between drug use and criminality, there’s a lack of knowledge on the physical and psychological effects of drug use, the higher risk for addiction among the mentally ill, and the success of modern-day addiction treatments.

After a person becomes addicted to a drug, breaking the addiction can be a serious challenge. Drugs impact the brain, the heart, the kidneys, the liver, and the mind. It’s the first and last in that list that are hit the hardest, with long-term repercussions and consequences on mental health and cognition.

Depending on how a drug is consumed, long-term drug use can lead to deterioration in other parts of the body as well. It’s clear that drug use, both in the short-term and in the long-term, will impact your health. But while some of these effects will be permanent, many are reversible. The sooner an addict seeks help, the more likely they are to save themselves from the long-term implications of a failing body.


Your Brain on Drugs

Decades ago, a TV spot showed a teenager frying an egg, explaining that ‘this is your brain on drugs’. It was meant to be a quick way to catch the attention of millions of young adults in the audience, quite simply showing that drug use fries your brain.

The ad was subject to about as much parody and scrutiny as any other poorly explained analogy. It ended with a rhetorical statement: “any questions?” Yet the truth is that there were many questions, and many felt they weren’t being answered.

Drug don’t cause your brain to cook in a pan, but they do change the way you perceive the world and react to your own natural instincts and thoughts. All drugs are similar in shape and function to many of the chemicals we already produce in our own brain, the chemicals we use to trigger certain reactions, from being hungry to getting excited. When these foreign chemicals bind with our neurons, a reaction occurs wherein the brain is overstimulated with what can be described as a ‘supernormal stimuli’.

We’ve evolved to react to things in certain ways, and an overstimulation of any given natural trigger is going to invoke an exaggerated reaction. This is more apparent in junk food than anything else – we crave sugar and fat because they’re so rare, and that is why foods that consist almost entirely out of these two ingredients are so incredibly delicious to us, despite the fact that they would never exist in the wild.

Drugs elicit something similar in the brain, causing a ‘high’ and prompting a major shift in the way the brain processes other neurochemicals. Over time, the brain begins to get used to the stimulus it receives from drugs, and other pleasures take a backseat. This triggers a process known as ‘drug dependence’, wherein we rely on the drugs we take to feel normal, and simply quitting leads to withdrawal symptoms.

It’s this simple mechanism of ‘training your brain’ to get used to the extreme effects of drug use that kickstarts a long series of serious consequences to a person’s physical and psychological health.


Drug Use Side-Effects

Drug toxicity differs from drug to drug, with some being far more toxic than others. Nearly all substances can cause an overdose, with minute exceptions and some unlikely candidates. For example, it is difficult to overdose on benzodiazepines alone, and many individuals simply fall asleep after accidental ingestion of one too many. But in conjunction with other drugs, or taken in extreme quantities, the likelihood of an overdose skyrockets. Meanwhile, drugs like alcohol and tobacco are far more dangerous to the human body, not only due to their acute toxicity, but due to their carcinogenic nature.

Different drugs come with different side effects, owing to their toxicity, the way the brain processes them, as well as how they are consumed. Drugs that are injected are more likely to cause complications with injection sites, ranging from wounds and infections to more dangerous issues, such as necrosis (decaying tissue). Insufflation can cause damage to the nasal cavity as well as a person’s sense of smell and can cause infrequent nose bleeding.

Excess drug use prior to overdose can still cause harm to the organs, particularly the heart, brain, and liver, increasing a person’s likelihood of a stroke, heart attack, or liver cirrhosis. Kidney damage is also frequent among long-term drug users, due the kidneys’ roles in the endocrine system. Because drug use frequently pushes the body to produce dopamine and drive certain hormones and neurotransmitters through the roof, drug users may be more prone to problems with the adrenal gland, as well as being more prone to illnesses related to high levels of stress (due to elevated cortisol levels, both in stimulant users as well as depressant users).


Drug Use and Mental Illness

Aside from the damage dealt to the organs, brain, and overall body, drug use can also severely affect a person’s mind. The research tells us that individuals who already struggle with mental health issues are more prone to developing an addiction in the future, for a number of reasons including diminished reasoning, self-medication, lowered inhibition, and more. Individuals struggling with depression and/or anxiety may be more open to suggestion and manipulation or may start using as a way to numb emotional pain. However, there is also an inverse effect wherein drug use exacerbates or even triggers the development of certain mental health problems.

Some drugs are associated with the development of psychosis, or the false perception. This can include visual hallucinations as well as believing certain things to be true despite clear contradictions in thinking (paranoia, and more). Long-term drug use can also lead to extreme fluctuations in mood and motivation, mimicking symptoms of mania and depression, as well as anxiety.

Changes in sleep and diet can further exacerbate existing issues by leaving the body tired and malnourished. This is also expressed through other physical changes, such as sudden weight loss or weight gain, tremors, poor hygiene, and poor skin health, all of which can have a detrimental effect on an addict’s sense of self. The added pressure due to legal problems, loss of friends, and societal stigma can further drive someone into a dark corner, making them less likely to seek help, and more likely to develop more severe depressive symptoms.


Inhibition, Addiction, and Risk-Taking

Aside from the direct effects of drug use on the brain and body, there are certain consequences that are related to the side-effects of long-term drug use, most notably the decrease in inhibition and the diminished cognition that follows the long-term use of many popular drugs, including ecstasy, alcohol, and various stimulants.

These drugs often increase sexual desire, decrease critical thinking, and can lead to dangerous situations such as unprotected sex with strangers (massively increasing the likelihood of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy), reckless driving, violent behavior, and more.

Some drugs are more likely to lead to certain scenarios than others. For example, alcohol popularly decreases inhibition, but it also increases sexual dysfunction in men. A study of drug use and sexual desire in nightclubs showed that alcohol and cocaine were common, among women and men respectively, with ecstasy being used for general enjoyment rather than sexual activity, and cannabis being avoided due to its relaxing effects.

Drugs are complex, and each drug affects an individual in different ways. Yet nearly all addictive drugs come with their own set of negative consequences, from diminished intelligence among long-term cannabis users to serious cancer risks in alcoholics and heart damage in cocaine users.

Opioids Pose Considerable Risk for Addiction

How Opioids Affect You

To put it simply, an addiction is a condition wherein a pleasant-feeling habit turns into an unavoidable obsession, one you cannot cut ties with or live without. This isn’t like developing a love for a dish and “not getting enough of it”. It is like developing the sense of a need for opioids like you have a need for water and food.

But why do these addictions occur, and why is it that one of the country’s most prescribed drugs also happens to be one of the most potent and addictive? And finally, why is it that opioids have become so ubiquitous, and how did the opioid crisis come to be nearly 30 years ago?


Why Opioids Are Addictive

Opioid medication is any medication that is either directly or synthetically derived from opium, an extract of the poppy plant. Historically used as an anesthetic and recreational drug, opium has a long history tracing back to some of the first civilizations in all of human history. Today, most of the opium in the world (both medical and illegal) is produced in Afghanistan, by synthetic opioids are often produced in other countries such as Mexico and China.

However, we don’t use opium in its raw form. Instead, certain chemicals are isolated within opium to produce a variety of compounds, including morphine and codeine. Thebaine extracted from opium is used in the production of synthetic opioids, including hydrocodone (Vicodin), hydromorphone, and the infamous oxycodone (OxyContin). On the illegal side of things, morphine is extracted from opium, then turned into diamorphine (heroin).

While opioids have been known for their addictive potency, opium’s early history is largely medicinal, particularly for pain relief and anesthetics. It wasn’t until the 19th century that morphine and heroin were developed from opium, and since then, other opioids have been designed for pharmaceutical use, ranging from the less potent codeine to the far more potent fentanyl.

But just as opium has a legacy of addiction and debauchery tracing back thousands of years, opioids are still very addictive drugs. Despite this, the production and consumption of prescription opioids soared in the 1990s, making the US the largest consumer of opioids in the world bar none. To this day, the sudden and explosive rise in opioid use late in the last century continues to bear a terrible fruit in the form of thousands of opioid-related overdoses per year, many through a growing heroin market capitalizing on the demands of a large number of American prescription opioid addicts.

When you take an opioid, it binds to opioid receptors in the brain and does a number of things, including relieve and numb pain. But it also releases a large amount of dopamine and produces a powerful euphoric effect. Over periods of time, opioid use confuses the brain, and it begins to form a habit of using the drug as a way to feel good. Pushed so far off its equilibrium with each use of an opioid, the brain slowly changes, making regular opioid use the new “normal”. On the other hand, quitting opioids after developing this dependence leads to a series of emotional as well as physical symptoms, and an intense craving for your newfound habit. This kicks other habits and cravings to the curb, as the addiction for opioids overpowers nearly any other form of pleasure.

Opium was a powerful drug, contributing heavily to the temporary downfall of the most dominant economic force on the planet in the mid-19th century. Opioids can be just as dangerous, dealing a massive blow to the US both financially and through loss of life.


How the Opioid Crisis Began

Opioid-related deaths rose sharply in 1991 and coincided with the increase in prescription opioids on the market, particularly through pharmaceutical companies like Perdue. A combination of mass marketing for painkillers, the development and sale of OxyContin, campaigns such as “Pain as the Fifth Vital Sign”, and the sheer power and influence of drug lobbying led to an astonishing number of painkillers flooding onto the streets through pressured doctors, far more than were every needed.

While the FDA began cracking down on some of this behavior, it went on for decades. In one particularly astonishing example, a single town of 392 people received a ludicrous 9 million hydrocodone pills over two years. Meanwhile, two pharmacies in Williamson, West Virginia received 21 million opioid painkillers between 2006 and 2016. Opioid deaths rose from over 1 per 100,000 in the late 1990s, to nearly 9 in 100,000 today. That’s an average of about 130 opioid-related overdoses per day.


Treating an Opioid Addiction

Opioids are incredibly damaging, but their effects can be mitigated through proper treatment. Sadly, this treatment is not available to all Americans, and even fewer take advantage of it. Opioid addiction is incredibly undertreated in this country and is one of the major reasons why the epidemic continues to be such an issue.

Treatment begins with separation. By separating a patient from the drug, they begin undergoing the process of withdrawal. The withdrawal process takes at most about one month and can be over in as little time as one week. Withdrawal begins anywhere from a few hours to half a day after the last dose. While withdrawal symptoms can be very uncomfortable, they are not lethal. Despite this, it is recommended to undergo withdrawal with the help of a medical professional, within a rehab or detox facility. Certain discomforts can be mitigated through proper management. Furthermore, unlike many other addictions, there are certain medications that can potentially help recovering addicts manage cravings. Opioid antagonists completely block the euphoric and painkilling effects of opioids, rendering them nearly useless. Certain opioid antagonists are used to save an addict’s life during an overdose, by breaking the connection between the opioid and the brain’s cells, and kickstarting respiration.

After withdrawal, the priority is to prepare for a drug-free life. While opioid addiction is potent, long-term management can do a lot to tremendously mitigate the potential of a relapse. Group meetings, support systems, strict schedules, a healthier coping mechanism, and a series of other tools and techniques, such as sober living communities, can be utilized over the course of a recovering addict’s lifetime to continue to commit to sobriety and avoid opioid use.


The Dangers of Mixing Drugs

Why Mixing Drugs Is Dangerous

Most people have seen the presentations in school or heard the lectures: your brain on drugs lights up and changes, first producing a high, but with serious long-term consequences. However, do you know what happens when you take more than one drug at a time?

The fact is that anywhere from one-third to over a half of all drug users use more than one drug regularly, depending on area and sample size. Heroin and cocaine users reportedly abused more than one drug more often than other types of drug users, the most commonly concurrent addictions being an addiction to alcohol and heavy use of marijuana.

Studies also show that polydrug use complicates treatment, increases health risk behaviors, leads to greater psychological issues, and makes it harder to treat the addiction, because of the differences between the various drugs the users commonly ingest.

Mixing drugs can lead to volatile effects. The worst-case scenario is death by accidental overdose. Drugs interact with one another, and most have contraindications – reasons and symptoms that tell doctors they should refrain from prescribing a certain treatment. Contraindications can also be syndromes or symptoms suggesting that patients are better off not taking a specific drug. Drug interactions are also something medical professionals watch out for, to prevent unintended side effects. For example, if someone suffers an allergic reaction to baker’s yeast, they shouldn’t take the hepatitis B vaccine. Warfarin is used to treat unwanted blood clotting by preventing coagulation. This interacts negatively with common acetaminophen-containing products and Tylenol. If you’re already taking a drug that acts as an antidepressant, you shouldn’t double up with an antidepressant herbal supplement. The lists go on and on.

Most drug users aren’t trained to know the counterindications for every drug they end up trying. Often, they can’t be sure the drug they’re trying is pure anyway. This makes polydrug use so dangerous, as a person could potentially be ingesting three, four, or five different drugs, all of which interact with the brain and body in very different ways, making the possibility of a severe reaction that much more likely.


Drugs and the Body

When a drug enters the bloodstream, it makes its way to the brain, passes the blood-brain barrier, and attaches to receptors in your brain cells. This process causes your central nervous system to send out signals, either reducing pain, or reducing inhibition, or increasing your heartrate, or blocking the decrease of serotonin – and so on and so forth.

One drug alone can prime the brain and body for more drug use, causing a flood of dopamine to slowly but effectively build a dependence on the substance.

But when two different drugs interact with the brain, the effects can be deadly. Here are a few different ways in which polydrug use can damage the brain.

Cocaine and alcohol are commonly combined, especially at parties, either with or without MDMA in the mix in the form of ecstasy. However, while cocaine is sometimes used to maintain the euphoric feeling of alcohol without the drunkenness, cocaine and alcohol combine in the body to produce cocaethylene, a chemical compound of cocaine and ethanol, more dangerous than either drug on its own. Cocaethylene can cause sudden death once enough of it builds up inside the system. It can stay in the body much longer than either drug, and it takes longer for the body to metabolize it.

Heroin and cocaine are also commonly combined, usually referred to as a speed ball. Cocaine is used to limit the withdrawal effects of heroin, but at an increased risk of:

  • Renal disease
  • Paranoia and anxiety
  • Depressed breathing/respiratory failure
  • Dizziness
  • Coma

While MDMA in its purest form is not a strong stimulant, MDMA is usually cut and mixed with cocaine and other stimulants when sold as a party drug, and can have serious neurological consequences, including neurotoxicity and other long-term mental consequences.

Any given drug combination can heavily affect your organs, especially the kidneys, liver, and brain. Drugs combine in the liver and create different compounds, with a higher likelihood of long-term damage, including an increased risk of several different cancers.


Mixing Like and Like

With two very different drugs can elicit a mixed response in the brain and body, two similar drugs will combine to boost shared effects, massively increasing the risk of an overdose. An influx of illegal fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, has led to a growing number of opioid overdoses in the US through fentanyl-laced heroin. Similarly, taking a mild opioid like codeine and mixing it with alcohol can cause the depressant effects of both drugs to ramp up violently, leading to unconsciousness, respiratory failure, and death through lack of oxygen.

Mixing several different types of stimulants can increase the risk of heart failure, as well as lead to greater long-term risks in the brain, including anhedonia (killing the ability to feel pleasure) and permanent damage to cognitive abilities.


Alcohol in the Mix

Alcohol is the most dangerous concurrent drug because it is common, cost-effective, and usually available wherever other drugs exist. Even among drug users used to stronger ‘uppers’ and ‘downers’, alcohol is still a common staple due to its effectiveness and ubiquitous nature. However, it’s also one of the more dangerous drugs to mix other drugs with.

Cocaine and alcohol create a toxic compound that leads to sudden death over time, and an increased risk of liver damage and stroke. Alcohol and depressants (including opioids) can cause an overdose death through respiratory failure. When mixed with hallucinogens, alcohol can cause increased risk taking, fatal accidents, and generally place the user in extremely unsafe situations.


Always Consult Your Doctor

Drug use is dangerous one way or another, and most drug users may not feel comfortable openly discussing their drug use with a medical professional unless they’re already seeking treatment.

However, regardless of whether you’re addicted or thinking of using drugs recreationally, don’t take medication without talking to a doctor about it, even if it’s over-the-counter, or simply a herbal alternative. Even the pills you get from a naturopath can negatively interact with regular medication, given the right combination of chemicals. A professional can let you know whether it’s a good idea to take something if you’re presenting certain symptoms, have certain allergies, or are already on a certain drug.


Drug Use Isn’t Worth Losing Your Life Over. Seek Help!

Drug Use Isn't worth Your Life

Roughly 72,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2017 alone, and that number has been on a steady incline in the past few years. While many drugs have slowly declined in usage, use of prescription opioids like fentanyl and heroin have increased. Meanwhile, alcohol and tobacco continue to claim thousands of lives through alcohol poisoning and related illnesses, from throat and larynx cancer to lung cancer and heart disease.

But drugs don’t typically kill overnight. The road from first contact to last breath can take years and decades, and while thousands of Americans die of drug overdose every year, millions struggle with drug addiction. Rather than being a moral failing or personal choice, addiction is a disease – a disease that can be treated. But it takes a willingness to commit to treatment for it to work.

Today more than ever, drug use is being called into question. After decades of an unsuccessful War on Drugs, many Americans are skeptical of the damage drug use can do. Some teens are misinformed on the dangers of drugs. Others struggle to see the difference between using a drug for performance and using it for medical purposes – leading to the use of Ritalin and Adderall as illegal study aids rather than prescribed medication for ADHD. But it’s important to understand that drug use isn’t black and white. Just because one drug is legal, or because a drug can help someone in a very specific context, doesn’t make it safe or wise to use drugs.

Yes, marijuana is now legal in several states throughout the US. Opioids, benzos and amphetamines are prescribed legally to Americans. THC may be prescribed to cancer patients for pain and inflammation in most states in the US. And alcohol and tobacco can be found in every corner store. But drug use is still dangerous, and often enough, it can lead to disorder and death. Worst of all, you won’t know until it’s too late.


How Drugs Change a Life

For some individuals, drugs can be life-changing in a positive way. Thousands of Americans have benefited from cannabis products prescribed for seizures and nausea, and to milden the side-effects of chemotherapy. Children correctly diagnosed with severe ADHD have been able to better manage their disorder through the careful prescription of amphetamines. And cocaine is an excellent topical anesthetic, to this day.

But that’s not always the case. Many Americans have seen their lives spiraled into years of addiction and suffering due to a prescription of OxyContin. Others abused their ADHD medication, or worse yet, abused their relative’s medication, often at a young age. Some whose access to legal prescription medication has ceased have turned to illegal sources, including fentanyl-laced heroin, and have lost their lives as part of the 40,000+ Americans who lost their lives last year to opioids.

Few factors help determine if someone is at risk for an addiction when they come into contact with a drug, but anybody – even the most privileged and happy of individuals – can turn an ‘occasional’ drug habit into a pervasive and deadly addiction.

Drugs capture the minds of their users through a subtle manipulation of the brain’s neurotransmitters: chemicals used in the communication between cells. Dopamine in particular seems to play a primary role in the development of a physical dependence, as the brain changes after persistent drug use. The result can include lowered cognition, memory problems, neurotoxic consequences (causing anhedonia, or the loss of pleasure), reduced problem-solving, trouble assessing risk, and more.

This is accompanied with psychological suffering, as well as the urge to use whenever a high wears off. Partially, people addicted to drugs need more drugs as way to drown out the reality of being addicted to drugs. Partially, it’s because their brain is screaming for more drugs.

As adaptable and intelligent as our brain is, it’s still only a rudimentary computer. It does its best to adapt to drug use, but in a way that backfires tremendously. While many medicines rely on changing the way the brain communicates – such as antidepressants, which increase the amount of serotonin available in the brain – only few affect the reward pathway in the brain in such a way that the only thing you’re effectively motivated by is the drug that elicited the change to begin with.

This is the basic premise of addiction as a disease. The brain changes to accommodate the effects of a new and foreign substance, by turning the substance and its effects into the new “norm”. It then seeks to maintain that norm by constantly craving more. Without it, you spiral into withdrawal symptoms, accompanied by all the other effects of sobriety – such as a rush of guilt from the stigma attached to abusing drugs. The cycle continues – until it takes your life.


How Drugs Take a Life

When a drug is consumed, the body learns to metabolize it. Often, as drug use continues, the body becomes more efficient in metabolizing the drug. Soon, a dose that used to be effective no longer is. This happens with non-addictive medication, especially when someone has to use a drug for years and decades. Sometimes, the process takes a very long time. Sometimes it happens quickly. Sometimes, a certain drug simply isn’t powerful enough to elicit the same old high, and you move onto something more potent and deadlier.

One wrong dose, or one dose mixed badly or laced with an unknown and dangerous ingredient can be enough to trigger an overdose, causing the body to fail in one way or another. With opioids and depressants like alcohol and benzodiazepine, the body fails to properly breathe, and the brain dies of oxygen starvation. In other cases, the heart beats irregularly, before stopping completely. Sometimes, a person may go unconscious and involuntarily vomit, blocking off their airways.

Sometimes, drugs cause deaths indirectly. Drugs injected may be injected through shared syringes, especially in moments when users simply fail to care enough to maintain proper syringe etiquette. This can promote the spread of deadly infections as viruses, including hepatitis and HIV. Drug use can also coincide with deadly accidents, or illnesses and conditions caused by organ damage and death caused by organ failure.


Addiction Can Be Treated

This article paints a bleak picture of what drugs can do. The number mentioned at the very beginning of the article only refers to the deaths attributed directly to drug overdoses. Countless others died of drug-related illnesses and accidents, as well as drug-related crimes and violence.

But this isn’t an indictment of anyone using drugs. It’s a wakeup call to identify addiction as a harmful disease – one that can be successfully treated, and must be treated, in order to save the lives of millions of Americans currently struggling with addiction on a day-to-day basis. Most Americans with drug use issues do not seek help – but seeking help works.

What Permanent Damage Can Drugs Do to You?

What Lasting Damage Can Drugs Do

All drugs can leave lasting, permanent damage – if taken often enough. Addictive drugs usually cause the most damage in any given society because, unlike, say, heart medication, taking a drug like heroin compels you to take more of it, until you feel like you can’t live without an ever-increasing dose of the stuff. And as with all drugs, it’s ultimately the dosage that makes the poison.

When given in miniscule amounts, even heroin won’t kill you. The body can process it better than it processes alcohol, and aside from the fact that it’s heavily addictive, there are few dangerous side effects to a low dose of heroin. But the fact that most heroin is illegally-sourced and mixed with other ingredients, injected often through shared needles, and eventually taken at dosages that are likely to kill you, it very quickly becomes a dangerous and unreliable drug. Like heroin, most addictive drugs can hurt us – and some leave lasting, permanent damage.


Why Do Drugs Hurt Us?

All drugs are designed and sold to have a certain effect. Some drugs are synthetically put together specifically to mimic naturally-occurring chemicals, with the express purpose of eliciting a specific reaction, for medical or recreational purposes. Other drugs are derived from bacteria and plants, studied, and applied in medicine after decades of rigorous testing and experimentation. But in effect, all drugs leave a lasting mark on an individual – it’s what they’re meant to do.

Most drugs sold today are explicitly on the market because their benefits heavily outweigh their drawbacks. Heart medication may decrease the natural clotting effect in the body’s blood, creating thinner blood that more easily passes through a person’s veins, in order to improve oxygen delivery throughout the body’s tissue despite a weak heart or constricted blood vessels. However, this comes with a series of side effects, most notably the fact that less clotting means longer healing, as the body struggles to fix cuts and bruises.

Some drugs have drawbacks that far outweigh any benefits. When German chemists first discovered an even more potent analgesic by studying and experimenting with morphine, they dubbed it heroin, and sold it as a less addictive, more powerful analgesic and anesthetic under the Bayer brand. Soon, heroin was found to be an even more potently addictive drug than other existing opioids, and in the late 19th and early 20th century, it was banned for medical use in various regions throughout the world.


Drugs and the Body

Illegal drugs can generally be split into four categories: stimulants, depressants, opioids, and hallucinogens. Some stimulants and depressants have hallucinogenic properties, but hallucinogens are in a grey area medically. Other than PCP, they’re not strictly-speaking physically addictive, and while they do affect the brain, no evidence shows that their effects are permanent. However, they’re still illegal, and dangerous to use. Stimulants, depressants and opioids on the other hand are generally addictive, with the more potent drugs usually being more addictive.

Taking too much of these drugs or reacting violently to them due to individual differences from person to person or counter indications with other medicines can leave lasting damage in the body, including organ failure, paralysis, blindness, and more.

Drug Spotlight: Opioid-Based Prescription Drugs

Opioid Abuse

The opioid epidemic started back in the 90s, riding in on a wave of painkillers coming in off the streets and from the doctor’s office alike. A surge in heroin production as well as an abundance of unused, stolen and resold prescription opioids led to a nation with thousands of people addicted to and dependent on opioids, both of the prescription drug kind, and the illegally-produced kind. Rather than waning, the crisis has actually grown over the decades, reaching an all-time high of over 42,000 deaths in 2016, and an official declaration by the HHS that the opioid epidemic is a public health emergency.

The US consumes by far most of the world’s opioid supply, with overdose deaths occurring throughout the country, from coast to coast. Combatting this crisis requires a committed and dedicated approach from every angle, including policy, law enforcement, healthcare, and education. Every American can do their part by educating themselves and their loved ones on the dangers of opioid use, what opioids are and how they work, as well as how to recognize opioid abuse and how to treat it.

The majority of opioid consumption in the opioid crisis today is in fact heroin, which is an illegal substance with no real medical value in the US. However, the opioid crisis was first fueled through the over-prescription of opioid-based prescription drugs, which, despite heavy regulation and changes in policy, continue to contribute to nationwide prescription drug abuse.


What Are Opioid-Based Prescription Drugs?

Opioid-based drugs are synthetically or naturally derived from opium, the psychotropic extract of the poppy plant. First discovered and cultivated in ancient times, in the civilizations of Mesopotamia, opium is one of the oldest drugs on the planet.

Aside from being highly addictive, opium was also known for its analgesic and anesthetic properties, and when modern medicine was in its infancy, more concentrated derivatives of opium – including morphine and heroin – were marketed as anesthetics and analgesic drugs, both pre- and post-surgery. It didn’t take long for morphine overuse to be recognized as dangerous, and both morphine and heroin became highly-regulated drugs in the post-WWII era, with heroin being banned in most nations since the early to mid-20th century.

Today, opioid-based drugs continue to contribute in modern healthcare, usually for analgesic purposes as we’ve since discovered more effective anesthetics. Commonly-prescribed opioid-based prescription medication includes codeine, hydrocodone (Vicodin), and the extremely potent drug fentanyl, which is reserved for terminal pain, and severe cancer pain. Morphine is still used in post-operative care.

Other less common opioid-based drugs still exist, including carfentanil, a derivative of fentanyl that is roughly 100 times as potent, used typically only in veterinary medicine due to its extreme potency. Described as a “nerve gas” due to how easily it can be inhaled, carfentanil has also been mixed into batches of illegal heroin sold throughout the United States, leading to a number of overdoses due to poorly-mixed batches.

When people talk about opioid-based prescription drugs, they typically mean one of the following drugs:

Morphine is also sold under the brand name Kadian, as well as MS Contin.


How Do Opioids Kill Pain?

Opioids are primarily used as analgesic medication, which means that they’re specifically prescribed to kill pain. Morphine, hydromorphone, and oxycodone are all very powerful painkillers capable of numbing a wide variety of pain – but how?

All neurons possess a number of different receptors, which intercept neurotransmitters and other chemicals in order to communicate and facilitate the various functions for which they’re used. Opioid receptors, named such because of the effects that opioids have on them, exist on neurons throughout the brain and nervous system, and these receptors accept the opioids and begin blocking out pain signals throughout the body.

It’s as simple as that, really. The opioids attach to the cells in the brain, gut, spinal cord, and other areas throughout the body, and send out a message stopping the spread of pain signals. Opioids do this more effectively than any other drug known to man, but at a cost. While they’re very effective at stopping pain, there are several reasons why these drugs are also considered dangerous.


Why Are Opioids Dangerous?

The two major reasons why opioids are considered dangerous is that they can cause serious side effects (including death), and they are highly addictive. More so than many other drugs, opioids are among the most addictive drugs on the planet. Rather than simply block out pain the way over-the-counter medication like NSAIDs and paracetamol do, opioids also induce a reaction in the brain by increasing the release of dopamine, heavily changing your mood. Their effect on the brain also seems to convince your mind that you need more of the drug than you actually do, causing you to seek opioids out even when you aren’t in pain, or when it’s been prescribed that you should be taking less.

Most people who struggle with an opioid addiction never took the drug for pain to begin with. Since people who are prescribed medication usually only take the dosage prescribed to them, they are at a lesser risk of developing an addiction. On the other hand, people who start taking prescription drugs illegally and are more liberal with their consumption of opioids, or people who started on heroin, are much more likely to struggle with addiction as their drug use continues.

This leads to serious issues over time, including drug tolerance, wherein a previous dosage is no longer enough to elicit the same level of high it used to elicit. This can quickly take a turn for the worse by causing you to take more of the drug than before, eventually reaching levels that cause you to shut down physically.

Opioids affect the nervous system in a similar fashion to an anesthetic or a sedative, causing sleepiness, shallow breathing, and a slow heartrate. An overdose on opioids can cause unconsciousness, followed by respiratory arrest and death. Naloxone and other opioid inhibitors can block the effects of opioids on the brain and stop an overdose, but if applied too late, the overdose can still cause brain damage and paralysis due to oxygen deprivation.


How Is Opioid Addiction Treated?

Opioid addiction is treated at times through a combination of medication, therapy, and residential treatment. Rehab facilities and sober living homes specialize in helping opioid addicts find a place to fully recover from their addiction by giving them programs and schedules to help keep themselves occupied, learn to deal with a number of physical and emotional problems without the use of opioids, and slowly wean off their addiction through the use of methadone, naloxone, or buprenorphine.