Opiates and Opioids

Opiates (morphine, codeine) are substances which derive from the opium plant.

Opioids (fentanyl, Oxycodone) are man-made.

Both are used to treat pain. Some are prescribed by a physician, and some are available through unregulated methods, such as street supply. Opioids/opiates come in many forms and can be swallowed, injected, and snorted.

Research conducted by the Pain Management Society of Canada (1) (2019) shows that policy needs to reflect an understanding of the ways that chronic pain affects many people. Pain managements create a need for effective substances that help people manage their symptoms while retaining a good quality of life.

First Nations opioid misuse is a direct result of colonization and intergenerational trauma (attempted destruction of cultures, languages, and disconnection to land and family).

“It is said the Great Spirit worked to ensure what we would need to live life, forever and all time, no matter the circumstances, was thought of and put into Creation.” (Elder Jim Dumont)

Why Misuse Opioids/Opiates?

Some people misuse to help them cope with reality in the same way people use alcohol and other substances, the temporary high may offer comfort and relief.

Some people are trying to cope with living in poverty/poor housing/no employment, intergenerational trauma and childhood trauma, which may be causing nightmares, depression, anxiety, trouble forming relationships, and low self-esteem. With opioids and opiates, people can experience feelings of numbness, calmness, reduced pain, and a sense of relief. (Opioid and Meth toolkit)

Why Can’t People Who Are Addicted Just Stop?

When individuals begin using opioids, physical dependence occurs quickly because the drug affects the area of the brain associated with reward and pain. This means that people may seek out more of the substance, eventually building a tolerance and needing more to get the same effects.

With opioids and opiates, people can experience feelings of numbness, calmness, reduced pain, a sense of relief, and other effects. The drug alters the brain to such a degree that the individual taking the drug cannot feel physically and/or emotionally balanced without more of the substance.  (Opioid and Meth toolkit)

Short and Long Term Impacts Of Opioids

Short term: drowsiness, constipation, impotence in men, nausea and vomiting, euphoria (feeling high), difficulty breathing, headaches, dizziness, confusion

Long term: increased tolerance, physical dependence, liver damage, infertility in women, worsening pain (opioid-induced hyperalgesia), life threatening withdrawal symptoms in babies born to mothers taking opioids

(Opioid Identification booklet)

Opioid/Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

Breathing patterns, metabolism, blood pressure, body temperature, and sleep/wake cycles are some of the biological functions affected.

Withdrawal symptoms can be severe. Symptoms may include intense cravings, insomnia, muscle aches, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and others. Withdrawal can be life-threatening.

(Opioid Identification booklet)

Addressing the Needs of Specific Populations

  • Pregnant and parenting women experience stigmatization and traumatization for substance dependency. Most pregnant mothers who use substances and actively parenting women want to be good mothers and may be looking for support (2)
  • Youth have strengths but systems and systemic conditions sometimes do not recognize the ways they are impacted. The foster care system can cause further risk of isolation, stigma, and trauma.
  • LGBT/Two-spirit/Non-binary/Trans folks:  May be stigmatized due to colonial influences and misunderstandings. There may also be general stigma and misunderstanding throughout mainstream society and among service providers who do not know how to work with these populations.
  • Seniors are at risk for abuse, poverty, and other forms of vulnerability that may be made worse by the influence of opioid addiction and harmful substance use. They may be tasked with raising grandchildren or having too many responsibilities and not enough support.

(1) A 2019 survey by the Chronic Pain Association of Canada (CPAC) https://drive.google.com/file/d/1P5-BzB4Cimymnusn1U3ECfFHIOyYD0mU/view

(2) BC Opioids and Mothering Toolkit: http://bccewh.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/CEWH-01-MO-Toolkit-WEB2.pdf

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