Opioid drugs work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other areas of the body. They reduce the sending of pain messages to the brain and reduce feelings of pain.

Some types of opioid drugs include:

  • codeine (only available in generic form)
  • fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, Fentora)
  • hydrocodone (Hysingla ER, Zohydro ER)
  • hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Lorcet, Lortab, Norco, Vicodin)
  • hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo)
  • meperidine (Demerol)
  • methadone (Dolophine, Methadose)
  • morphine (Astramorph, Avinza, Kadian, MS Contin, Ora-Morph SR)
  • oxycodone (OxyContin, Oxecta, Roxicodone)
  • oxycodone and acetaminophen (Percocet, Endocet, Roxicet)
  • oxycodone and naloxone (Targiniq ER)


This photo shows a seedhead of Opium Poppy Papaver somniferum with white latex.

From Wikipedia: “I took this photo in Den Haag. I cut the seedhead and a white milk dripped out. The next day the white milk was dried brown.”

Afghanistan’s opium poppy production goes into more than 90% of heroin worldwide.

The opium poppy contains up to 50 alkaloids, and the most famous is morphine. Another alkaloid in the latex of poppy is codeine. Codeine has one-seventh the biological activity of morphine, has less physical dependency, hence its use in prescription cough medicine and drops.

In 1898, Heinrich Dreser of Friedrich Bayer and Company introduced acetylated morphine as the “heroic drug”, under the proprietary name ‘Heroin’ (diamorphine). This drug quickly became popular worldwide. The very strong heroin was widely prescribed and could be purchased by mail order. By 1900, there were an estimated 1,000,000 opiate addicts in the United States, often addicted by accident.

So even though it was initially hailed as a nonaddictive morphine substitute, heroin actually was metabolized twice as fast, is four times more potent, yielding a combined effect of both chemicals and a drug with very high physical dependence capacity.

Governments, under pressure, were compelled to introduce laws on dangerous drugs, and responsible companies stopped using and supplying opiates. In the U.S. opium was eventually placed under federal restrictions by the Harrison Act of 1914.

In 1973, research first reported that opiates work with specific receptor sites in the brain, replacing naturally produced opiate peptides in the brain, called enkephalins, endorphins, and dynophins. These chemicals inhibit pain messages from being read by the brain cortex, but endorphins are also euphorics, involved in “runner’s high”. Within weeks of daily use, the body becomes physically dependent on this external supply and stops making its own opiate messages in nerve cells. Withdrawal symptoms are related to this fight to restore body functions, and the body cannot return to pristine condition, while receptors are permanently altered. Withdrawal includes a horrible syndrome of limbic and brain stem problems.

Chitta = Heroin.

Some slang names for heroin are:

  • Smack
  • Junk
  • H
  • Black tar
  • Horse

In Punjab, the most common opioid drug used is heroin (reported by 53%), followed by opium / doda / phukki (reported by 33%). Rest (14%) report using a variety of pharmaceutical opioids.

About Raghu Mahajan

Postdoctoral research fellow in theoretical physics, studying quantum gravity.
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