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Is Opium Abuse Changing?

Is Opium Abuse Changing?

Increased international travel has increased exposure to opium

Papaver somniferum is the botanical name for opium poppy, a species of plant whose milky latex contains opiate alkaloids like morphine, thebaine and codeine. These alkaloids can be synthesized into heroin or prescription pain medications like Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin, but opium can also be consumed in its natural state. By making incisions in the green seedpods, the poppy releases white sap that is collected and dried into a tar-like substance. Traditional opium use typically involves smoking the substance in a pipe or joint. Unlike prescription painkillers or heroin, opium typically contains all the narcotic alkaloids.

First cultivated more than 6,000 years ago in lower Mesopotamia, opium is responsible for the first US drug epidemic, which occurred between 1850 and 1914. According to the DEA Museum, Asian immigrants brought opium when they came to the US to work on the railroads and in the mines, and opium dens helped make the drug widely available. Today, poppy is predominately cultivated in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia, and opium use is most common in neighboring countries like Iran. An American poppy farm was busted in 2013, but the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) told the news agency Reuters that such large-scale operations are rare in the US. While heroin and painkiller abuse rates are high, opium use is not.

The United Nation’s World Drug Report 2013 provides global numbers on opium use, including the following:

  • Approximately 16.5 million people worldwide use heroin or opium
  • 74% of illicit opium production in 2012 occurred in Afghanistan
  • Mexico is the largest opium producer in the Americas
  • Areas of the world producing opium increased by 15%

NBC News reported in 2014 that opium production in Afghanistan is at an all-time high and likely to keep growing, but US use is low for several reasons, including the following:

  • Opium is more likely to be made into heroin for the US market
  • Availability in the US is scarce and typically sold at a premium
  • People who buy opium in the US often get hashish instead

Opium has a place in historical lore, and while there are currently no signs that it is making a pop cultural comeback, expanding travel options make opium more accessible to Americans. People who travel to Asia, North Africa and the Middle East can potentially purchase, use and even smuggle opium back to the States. Vang Vieng, for example, is a Laotian town with bars that openly sold opium to tourists until 2012. Recreational use always involves dangerous risks such as addiction, physical dependence, severe side effects, respiratory depression and overdose.

If dependent on any type of opiate drug or opioid medication, professional treatment is the most effective path to recovery. Rehabilitation centers offer several potential services, including the following:

  • Supervised detoxification with options for gradually reducing opiate use
  • Integrated screenings and treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Behavioral therapies that target self-destructive thought patterns and beliefs
  • Improved coping skills to recognize, avoid and handle high-risk situations
  • Counseling to address unresolved trauma and better manage anger and stress
  • Holistic pain management options for people taking opium for physical discomfort

Treatment centers utilize a wide variety of therapies depending on the patient’s particular needs and assist with aftercare support such as recovery groups and ongoing counseling.

If you have questions, our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to help. We can provide information, recommend facilities and even check health insurance plans for coverage. An addiction to any opiate is a serious health issue so please call our toll-free helpline now.