NIDA for Teens: The Science Behind Drug Abuse
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Opioids

The Brain's Response to Opioids

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Hi, my name’s Sara Bellum. Welcome to my magazine series exploring the brain’s response to drugs. In this issue, we’ll investigate the fascinating facts about opioids.

If you’ve ever seen The Wizard of Oz, then you’ve seen the poppy plant—the source of a type of drug called an opioid. When Dorothy lies down in a field of poppies, she falls into a deep sleep. No wonder the Latin name of this plant—Papaver somniferum—means “the poppy that makes you sleepy.” Opioids can be made from opium, which comes from the poppy plant, or they can be made in a lab. Either way, they can be helpful medicines—they are used as powerful painkillers, they are sometimes prescribed to control severe diarrhea, and they can also be found in cough medicine. Maybe you’ve heard of drugs called Vicodin, morphine, or codeine. These are examples of opioids. When used properly as medicine, they can be very helpful. But opioids used without a prescription, or taken in other ways or for different reasons than the doctor prescribed, can be dangerous and addictive.

Heroin is another example of an opioid, but it isn’t used as a medicine—it’s used to get high.