​​​​​​​​​​​​About Opioids​​​​​

To understand the opioid epidemic and opioid/substance use disorder, we need to know what opioids are and why they are risky.

What are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs that include prescription pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, and codeine, as well as the illegal drug heroin. They work by binding to specific receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other areas of the body to reduce the perception of pain. Opioids also produce feelings of pleasure.​

  • Prescripti​on opioids may be prescribed by a doctor to treat moderate to severe pain, and they may have serious side effects. Examples include oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine, and methadone.​

  • Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever. It is many times more powerful than other opioids and is approved for treating severe pain. Fentanyl can also be illegally made and distributed, and is found in many street drugs due to cross-contamination. Learn more about fentanyl.​

  • Heroin is an illegal opioid. 25 people died every day from a heroin overdose in the United States in 20211.​ Learn more about heroin

 Dr. Steve Holtsford on Addiction


Why are Opioids Risky?

Opioids are ad​​dictive​

One of the main risks of opioids is their potential to cause addiction. When people take opioids for a long time or in higher doses than prescribed, they can become dependent on them. This means they may feel like they need the medicine to function normally, even if they don't have pain anymore. Addiction can lead to serious problems in a person's life and can be very hard to overcome.

Opioids have harmful side effects

Opioids can make people feel very sleepy or dizzy, which can increase the risk of accidents or falls. They can also slow down a person's breathing, especially if taken in large amounts, which can be life-threatening.

Opioids can cause an ove​​rdose

If someone takes too much of an opioid or mixes it with other substances like alcohol or certain medicines, it can overwhelm the body and lead to a dangerous overdose. Opioid overdoses can cause breathing problems, loss of consciousness, and even death if not treated promptly.

Opioids could co​​ntain unknown substances

Opioids obtained illegally, such as through street dealers or online sources, can be even riskier. They may contain unknown substances, like fentanyl, or have unpredictable potency, making them especially dangerous.​