Narcotics are defined by the dictionary as drugs that if taken in moderate amounts can dull the senses, relieve pain and induce sleep but in excess can result in coma, stupor or even convulsions. The term is used for a wide range of drugs including but not limited to opioids or prescription painkillers. These are one of the most addictive substances worldwide. From illegal street drugs to legal prescription opioids, narcotics can be found everywhere. Although there is medical use for narcotics, they are also abused by many in large quantities.
Narcotic overdose deaths have reached epidemic proportions in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids (including prescription opioids, heroin, and fentanyl) caused the death of more than 33,000 people in 2015.
Opioids can be categorized as naturally occurring, semi-synthetic and synthetic. Opium is extracted from the plant Papaver somniferum (the opium poppy), and morphine is the primary active component of opium.
Opioids bind to the mu-opioid receptors in the brain and produce analgesia and euphoria. The human body produces natural opioids that bind to these receptors to alleviate pain. The word endorphin is a combination of two words: endogenous morphine. Endorphins are natural opioids produced in the body.
Ingestion of exogenous opioids, implying opioids that are not produced in the body, can lead to an addiction. These opioids bind to the same receptors as endogenous opioids. Specific opioids isolated from the plant are known as naturally occurring. Whereas semi-synthetic opioids are the ones that are initially derived from plants, and then, mixed with other synthetic chemicals.