Making sense of abused Drugs: Designer Drugs, Street Drugs and Prescription Drugs.

Crack, Heroin, OxyContin and Beyond.

Drug abuse conjures up images of destitute people living in poor conditions. We imagine men and women in back alleys, shooting up heroin or smoking a crack pipe. It is true that crack cocaine and heroin are major drugs of abuse. Heroin is a particularly deadly drug which is often cut with toxic fentanyl, a super-potent synthetic opioid. Yet, these drugs have permeated and infiltrated society at all levels. It is likely that you interact with people in active addiction on a daily basis. And the list of abused drugs goes beyond just cocaine and heroin.

Hallucinogens are making a comeback.

In the 60s, drug use was centered around hallucinogens, mainly LSD. Marijuana use was also prevalent during those times. Over the years, the hallucinogens fell out of favor. Other drugs became more popular, particularly stimulants, such as cocaine, amphetamines and methamphetamine. Also, opioids and sedatives became more widely used. In recent years, the elite Silicon Valley crowd has begun to popularize hallucinogens again. The current trend is “micro-dosing” which means to use a tiny amount of the drug, below what normally gets a person high. There are stories of housewives taking LSD to help enjoy playing with their children. This could develop into a dangerous trend. Also look out for unusual drugs in this category such as Sally-D, or Salvia divinorum, sage of the diviners. This is a plant that contains opioid-like compounds that induce hallucinations.

DXM and Ketamine: dissociative drugs. 

Dextromethorphan, also known as DXM, is a drug used in over-the-counter cough suppressants, such as Robitussin. It is also a drug of abuse that, in large amounts, gives the user a high similar to a mild opioid high and an LSD trip. Drug users who abuse this drug are known to drink bottles of cough syrup. It is known as “robotripping”. This practice is dangerous and may have serious long-term health consequences. Ketamine is a controlled drug used in the medical field. It is related to DXM and has similar effects when abused. Ketamine is used both by veterinarians and pediatric emergency doctors as a relatively safe anesthetic. It also has uses in treating depression, chronic pain, and opioid addiction. When abused, Ketamine use can lead to deadly overdoses and other serious consequences.

Illicit drugs and designer drugs.

Illicit drug use often involves breaking the law. Drug users who use cocaine or heroin are using an illegal substance. Misuse of prescription drugs and even over-the-counter drugs is illegal. Drug dealers and clandestine labs are always trying to work around the law and come up with legal alternatives. This has led to unique designer street drugs that may be legal for a short time until legislation catches up to the new chemicals. Bath salts are an example of a designer drug. Also synthetic cannabinoids. U-47700 is a designer drug that has led to several high profile deaths. It is a potent opioid that can cause respiratory depression and overdose. The musician, Prince, was found with U-47700 and fentanyl in his system.

THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the marijuana drug.

Marijuana has a long history as plant-based drug that is used to get high. It also believed to have therapeutic properties for certain illnesses. Some people claim that it is an effective anti-anxiety tool, yet there are serious concerns about the widespread use of THC, the active compound in marijuana. While it does not typically cause deadly overdoses, it can over time lead to permanent consequences, including affecting memory, motivation and general cognitive abilities.

Stimulant drugs for attention deficit/hyperactivity.

Amphetamine and methamphetamine are stimulants that have been used for ADHD, weight loss, sleep disorders and even to treat depression. These drugs are highly addicting and have a high abuse potential. Common forms include Adderall, Ritalin (methylphenidate), and others. College students sometimes get started in addiction to stimulants by using them to aid in studying. MDMA is another stimulant drug which currently has no acceptable medical use. It is a stimulant with hallucinogenic properties. MDMA, also known as ecstasy and Molly, was once thought to have potential as a psychological therapy aid. When abused, stimulants, including MDMA, can cause increased heart rate and blood pressure as well as a dangerous increase in body temperature.

GHB, the date rape drug sold at GNC.

GHB is a drug that was once found on the shelves of General Nutrition Centers and in other health food stores. It has since been removed and is now an illegal drug. GHB, also known as Grievous Bodily Harm on the streets, causes sedation and drowsiness. It is especially dangerous when combined with alcohol. Like bath salts, this once legal drug is now as illegal as LSD and Heroin.

The opioid conundrum

It’s in the news every day now. Top experts are trying to figure out how to end the opioid crisis. The solution seems straightforward. Make them all illegal. Common sense dictates that making a drug illegal slows down its use. When the drug is available in shops everywhere, like Kratom is and GHB once was, use skyrockets. Then, when the drug is made illegal, many users are not willing to go to the trouble to find it on the black market. As we can see with marijuana, as it becomes legal in more places, use is increasing dramatically. The problem with outlawing opioids is that they are effective drugs to treat severe acute and chronic pain. To date, there has been no drug or class of drugs discovered or created that can take the place of opioids in medical use.

Prescriptions opioids and street opiates.

Heroin is the drug we all think of when we think of opiates on the streets. Lately, we are also hearing a lot about fentanyl. This is not a new drug. It has been used in surgery and for the treatment of chronic pain and cancer pain for many years. The Fentanyl on the streets is another matter. There are synthetic analogs of the fentanyl molecule that are being used to cut heroin. These analogs are deadly and difficult to quit. Oxycodone is a prescription opioid that is well known on the streets as well. The most popular in recent years is the little blue pill, also known as the Roxy 30. Recently, these pills have been counterfeited, and filled with fentanyl instead of oxycodone. OxyContin is a long-acting form of oxycodone that also has a long history of abuse. Doctors who prescribe these drugs must be especially careful to screen for non-medical use, including abuse and diversion. They must also be aware that when patients stop taking opioids, they will likely suffer significant withdrawal symptoms.

Dangerous sedatives: barbiturates and benzodiazepines.

Jimi Hendrix author of the song, “Purple Haze” was buried on October 1, 1970, at Greenwood Cemetery in Renton, Washington, 45 years before Prince Rogers Nelson, author of the song, “Purple Rain”, died of an opioid overdose. Jimi Hendrix died of a barbiturate overdose. Barbiturates were commonly used during that time period as sleeping pills. They are rarely prescribed today. Since that time, benzodiazepines are used more often for anxiety, insomnia and muscle spasms. The benzodiazepines are a safer category of sedative compared to the barbiturates. The outcome for Jimi may have been different if he had taken a benzodiazepine for sleep. Similarly, Prince may have had a different outcome if he had been prescribed buprenorphine to treat his opioid dependence and chronic pain. Medical science should always progress in the direction of increasing the safety and efficacy of medical treatment. While benzodiazepines are safer, they can also be dangerous if abused. When combined with alcohol or other drugs, the benzos can be as dangerous as barbiturates. Xanax is one of particular concern. Doctors must educate their patients on the dangers of non-medical uses and abuse of prescription drugs.

The danger of inhalants.

It can be hard to imagine that kids would engage in dangerous activities such as sniffing toxic chemicals. Glues, gasoline, and other toxic substances can give a high when inhaled. The dangers of inhalants are serious. The problem is that teenagers are not fully aware of the seriousness of deadly drugs and long-term disability due to brain damage caused by these drugs. It is important to educate children on the dangers of abusing household chemicals. 

Alcohol abuse: the most legal drug of all.

While marijuana’s legal status is unclear, there is no doubt that alcohol is legal. A business with a license to sell alcohol may sell it to an adult who is 21-years-old or older. Yet, it is one of the most damaging and deadly drugs of all. Alcohol damages the brain, heart, liver and more. It destroys families and lives. It kills its users and also innocent bystanders in deadly drunk driving incidents. Alcohol abuse is one of the most serious problems in the world today. Alcohol was once illegal in the US and was made legal to reduce organized crime. As a CNS depressant, there are very serious consequences to heavy college drinking. Since it is legal, young adults should be educated on its dangers. Since alcohol is a drug with no medical use, maybe we should once again consider changing its legal status.

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