Opiate agonists provide patients with the same sensation experienced via endorphin, a natural compound found in the body. The brain’s opiate receptors receive the agonist, resulting in an opioid effect, or high, even though one isn’t actually occurring.
Opiate agonists are designed to bind to opiate receptors. However, unlike actual opiates, they are not derived from opium. These agonists are molecules, synthetic or natural, that are close enough to opioids that they can bind to opiate receptors in the brain. Various opiate agonists exist, each providing a unique effect. “Full agonists” are able to mimic the full effects of opiate use to a “t”. “Partial agonists” mimic opiate effects to a lesser extent, ranging from just below complete receptor activation to none at all.
Opiate agonists are often utilized in treatment for opiate addicts. When patients choose to stop using opiates (heroin, methadone, morphine) their bodies experience withdrawal symptoms. Agonists are provided to these patients to help alleviate the withdrawal symptoms without the aid of the actual drug from which the addiction stems.
Users with chronic opiate addictions are sometimes provided opiate agonists on a long-term basis.
Federal guidelines exist regarding use of methadone as an opiate agonist as defined by the 1974 National Addict Treatment Act. This act allows both short- (30 days or less) and long-term (31 – 180 days) methadone treatment as designated by physician.
Patients using opiate agonists may experience a variety of side effects including:
- Profuse sweating
- Sexual dysfunction
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