Opiates And The Law
Illicit drug use and the debate surrounding the various legal options available to the government in an effort to curtail it is nothing new to America. Since the enactment of the Harrison Narcotic Act in 1914 (Erowid) the public has struggled with how to effectively deal with this phenomena, from catching individual users to deciding what to do with those who are convicted (DEA). Complicating the issue further is the ever-expanding list of substances available for abuse. Some are concocted in basements or bathtubs by drug addicts themselves, some in the labs of multinational pharmaceutical companies, and still others are just old compounds waiting for society to discover them.
Almost overnight one such venerable substance (or class of substances) has been catapulted into the national spotlight: prescription painkillers, namely those derived from the opium poppy. This class of analgesic encompasses everything from the codeine in prescription cough syrup to the morphine used in the management of sever pain. These compounds are commonly referred to as opiates and are produced naturally by the poppy. The sub-class of this type that has gotten all of the attention recently is the opioids, which are semi-synthetic compounds derived from the opiates (Wade 846). Opioids were developed for a variety of reasons, such as reducing the cost of production (morphine is expensive to synthesize) and attempting to reduce the addictiveness of the drugs.
And addictive they are. Heroin is perhaps the best-known opioid around, and arguably one of the most addictive substances known to man. Opiates and opioids (hereafter generically referred to as opioids) function by attaching to receptor sites in the body called mu-receptors, which are primarily located in the brain and the digestive system. When these receptors are activated in the brain they produce a rush of euphoria and a groggy state of well being (it is interesting to note that studies have shown that this action does not eliminate the pain one is feeling, but merely changes ones’ perception of it) (Kalb). The body quickly becomes tolerant of this, however, and abuse frequently follows a steep dosage curve requiring that more and more of the drug be taken to produce the same effect. Long-term abusers develop...
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...keep them from indulging their habit. The truth of the matter is no one change or modification to existing policy will have much effect if any, on the current state of affairs. It isn’t enough to ban drugs, we must work to understand their allure and the intricate mechanisms in our brains and in our psychology that make some of us too weak to resist the temptation. Only with this sort of concentrated effort will we see any progress.
Erowid Psychoactive Vaults. Home Page. 6 April 2001. <http://www.erowid.org.>.
Kalb, Claudia. “Playing With Painkillers.” Newsweek 9 April 2001: 45-47.
Richwine, Lisa. “US Launches Fight Against Prescription Drug Abuse.” YahooNews. 10 April 2001 <http://dailynews.yahoo.com/h/nm/20010410/ts/health_drugs
Rosenberg, Debra. “How One Town Got Hooked.” Newsweek. 9 April 2001: 48-51.
Sacco, Vincent F, and Kennedy, Leslie W. The Criminal Event. New York: Wadsworth, 1996.
United States Drug Enforcement Agency. Home Page. 6 April 2001. <http://www.
Wade, L.G. Jr. Organic Chemistry. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1999: 846-847.
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