Opioids are common prescription drugs used to treat pain. As such, they are definitely not illegal. In fact, a lot of doctors routinely prescribe opioids to patients suffering from moderate to severe pain.
But there are illegal versions of opioids, like heroin, out on the streets. Drug manufacturers make them look like prescription opioids, so at first glance, you would not think they’re illegal. Drug dealers usually sell these illegal formulations in the black market, on the streets, or even online.
Selling these street versions of opioids is against the law, and so is keeping and sharing them. In other words, simply having them in your pockets can land you in jail pretty quickly.
Why do illegal versions of opioids exist?
Legitimate opioids are regulated drugs, so no one can buy them without a valid doctor’s prescription. Thus, people who are addicted to opioids can’t easily get more of them when their prescriptions run out. Some of them turn to the illegal drug trade to get their fix.
And because there are lots of people suffering from this addiction, there is a good market for illegal opioids.
Since opioids are readily available, drug manufacturers can easily reverse-engineer them and make up their own versions. The illegal ones are often more potent than the prescription versions. They often mix opioids with other drugs to achieve stronger effects.
What makes illegal opioids dangerous?
Aside from the fact that you can get in trouble with the law, illegal opioids spell disaster for your health. Not only are they more addictive, but they also have more dangerous side effects.
Here is the biggest thing that makes illegal opioids dangerous: you can’t know for sure what components are in them.
Illegal drug labs do not operate with safety in mind. They have no quality control standards. They don’t make their drug recipes available to anyone. So, there is no way for you to know how strong they are. With that, you are much more likely to suffer a fatal overdose before you even know it.
Another risk of illegal opioids is there could be toxic “fillers” added to them. Illegal drugs are usually “cut” with poisonous chemicals like gasoline, drain cleaner, and other things that you never want inside your body. So, an overdose is not the only concern; you could even get poisoned.
One more thing: illegal opioids are often much stronger than the prescription versions. For example, “pink” is over 7 times more potent than morphine, and illegal versions of fentanyl are 50 to 100 times more powerful.
If you take illegal opioids along with other prescription medications, you’re at an even higher risk for overdose. The same is true when you take them along with alcoholic drinks.
What are illegal opioids called?
These drugs go by a handful of street names. They could be different depending on where you are and who sells them. Here are some of those street names:
- Big O
- Black stuff
- Black tar
- China girl
- Dark knight
- Grey death
- Hell dust
There could be other names as well, as street names can change really quickly. More so if the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) regularly cracks down on them.
Illegal opioids can be bought online
These days, even drug dealers have embraced e-commerce. In September of this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called out 17 websites for selling unapproved and misbranded opioids.
These sites sold opioids to customers even without prescriptions. Also, some of them sold opioids that did not have proper directions for use.
The opioids available in these sites included oxycodone and tramadol, which have high risks for addiction.
Because these versions sold online are unapproved, you are not sure if they were vetted for safety. Thus, if you take them, even for legitimate reasons, you may put your life in danger.
These opioids may even be counterfeit versions. Worse, they may be contaminated with poisonous chemicals. In short, these opioids sold online are not safe to use.
Lots of “counterfeit opioids” are for sale on the streets
In August of this year, DEA agents in Minnesota seized about 46,000 counterfeit opioids in the state. The pills are designed to look like legitimate medications like Xanax, hydrocodone, and other pain or anxiety pills. But the counterfeit ones actually contain fentanyl, an opioid that’s 100 times stronger than morphine.
Just two milligrams of fentanyl are already fatal. To put that into perspective, two milligrams is roughly a few grains of salt. And a good number of these counterfeit pills have lethal doses of fentanyl in them.
“Each time someone takes a counterfeit pain pill, they are playing Russian roulette with their life,” said Special Agent in Charge Richard Salter Jr.
How would you know if an opioid is illegal or counterfeit?
Despite illegal opioids being made to look like the real deal, there are still ways to spot them.
For one, if some random person sells you opioids, then those drugs are most likely illegal versions. Remember that you can only get legitimate opioids in pharmacies and if you have a prescription.
Call the police right away, too, if you come across people who sell you opioids outside of pharmacies. That way, you can help stop the flow of illegal drugs in your community.
Be wary of online sellers of opioids as well. Make sure the sellers are licensed with the FDA first. Then, they have to ask you for a valid prescription. If they don’t, avoid buying from them.
What if someone close to you is using illegal opioids?
While possession of these drugs is against the law, you don’t necessarily have to turn them in. Addiction is more a disease than a crime, so it’s best to direct them to professional help.
Recovery from opioid addiction is quite possible, and it’s best done through the help of rehab professionals.