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    Prescription Opioids DrugFacts

    A plain language summary of prescription opioids that explains effects on the brain and reported use.


    Prescription Opioids DrugFacts

    Prescription Opioids DrugFacts What are prescription opioids?


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    Opioids are a class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant. Some prescription opioids are made from the plant directly, and others are made by scientists in labs using the same chemical structure. Opioids are often used as medicines because they contain chemicals that relax the body and can relieve pain. Prescription opioids are used mostly to treat moderate to severe pain, though some opioids can be used to treat coughing and diarrhea. Opioids can also make people feel very relaxed and "high" - which is why they are sometimes used for non-medical reasons. This can be dangerous because opioids can be highly addictive, and overdoses and death are common. Heroin is one of the world's most dangerous opioids, and is never used as a medicine in the United States.

    What are common prescription opioids?

    hydrocodone (Vicodin®) oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percocet®)

    oxymorphone (Opana®)

    morphine (Kadian®, Avinza®)

    codeine fentanyl

    How do people misuse prescription opioids?

    Prescription opioids used for pain relief are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor, but they can be misused. People misuse prescription opioids by:

    taking the medicine in a way or dose other than prescribed

    taking someone else's prescription medicine

    taking the medicine for the effect it causes-to get high

    When misusing a prescription opioid, a person can swallow the medicine in its normal form. Sometimes people crush pills or open capsules, dissolve the powder in water, and inject the liquid into a vein. Some also snort the powder.

    How do prescription opioids affect the brain?

    Opioids bind to and activate opioid receptors on cells located in many areas of the brain, spinal cord, and other organs in the body, especially those involved in feelings of pain and pleasure. When opioids attach to these receptors, they block pain signals sent from the brain to the body and release large amounts of dopamine throughout the body. This release can strongly reinforce the act of taking the drug, making the user want to repeat the experience.

    What are some possible effects of prescription opioids on the brain and body?

    In the short term, opioids can relieve pain and make people feel relaxed and happy. However, opioids can also have harmful effects, including:

    drowsiness confusion nausea constipation euphoria slowed breathing

    Opioid misuse can cause slowed breathing, which can cause hypoxia, a condition that results when too little oxygen reaches the brain. Hypoxia can have short- and long-term psychological and neurological effects, including coma, permanent brain damage, or death. Researchers are also investigating the long-term effects of opioid addiction on the brain, including whether damage can be reversed.

    What are the other health effects of opioid medications?

    Older adults are at higher risk of accidental misuse or abuse because they typically have multiple prescriptions and chronic diseases, increasing the risk of drug-drug and drug-disease interactions, as well as a slowed metabolism that affects the breakdown of drugs. Sharing drug injection equipment and having impaired judgment from drug use can increase the risk of contracting infectious diseases such as HIV and from unprotected sex.

    Prescription Opioids and Heroin

    Prescription opioids and heroin are chemically similar and can produce a similar high. In some places, heroin is cheaper and easier to get than prescription opioids, so some people switch to using heroin instead. Data from 2011 showed that an estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids switch to heroin1,2,3 and about 80 percent of people who used heroin first misused prescription opioids.1,2,3 More recent data suggest that heroin is frequently the first opioid people use. In a study of those entering treatment for opioid use disorder, approximately one-third reported heroin as the first opioid they used regularly to get high.4

    This suggests that prescription opioid misuse is just one factor leading to heroin use. Read more about this intertwined problem in our Prescription Opioids and Heroin Research Report.

    Can I take prescription opioids if I'm pregnant?

    If a woman uses prescription opioids when she's pregnant, the baby could develop dependence and have withdrawal symptoms after birth. This is called neonatal abstinence syndrome, which can be treated with medicines. Use during pregnancy can also lead to miscarriage and low birth weight. Read more in the Substance Use in Women Research Report.

    It can be difficult for a person with an opioid addiction to quit, but pregnant women who seek treatment have better outcomes than those who quit abruptly. Methadone and buprenorphine are the standard of care to treat opioid-dependent pregnant women. Methadone or buprenorphine maintenance combined with prenatal care and a comprehensive drug treatment program can improve many of the adverse outcomes associated with untreated opioid addiction. If a woman is unable to quit before becoming pregnant, treatment with methadone or buprenorphine during pregnancy improves the chances of having a healthier baby at birth.

    Source : nida.nih.gov

    Prescription Opioids

    Opioids are a family of drugs that are usually prescribed to relieve pain, control coughs and diarrhea and treat addiction to other opioids.

    In order to ensure the ongoing safety of our patients and staff, please note that CAMH is maintaining the requirement for universal masking of staff, patients, visitors/essential care partners, contractors/vendors at CAMH. A hospital-approved mask will be required to enter into our buildings and in all common areas. Further, current screening stations and protocols are also being maintained and there will be no change in the requirement for anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or exposure risks to not enter the hospital.

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    Prescription Opioids

    Opioids are a family of drugs that are usually prescribed to relieve pain, control coughs and diarrhea and treat addiction to other opioids.

    Official Name

    ​Prescription Opioids

    Street Name

    M, morph (for morphine); meth (for methadone); percs (for Percodan, Percocet); juice (for Dilaudid)

    What is it?

    Opioids are a family of drugs that are usually prescribed to relieve pain. Examples include codeine (in Tylenol No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4), oxycodone, morphine, hydromorphone (Dilaudid) and fentanyl. Other medical uses include controlling coughs and diarrhea, and treating addiction to other opioids. Opioids can produce euphoria, making them prone to abuse. Some people use opioids for their ability to produce a mellow, relaxed “high.”

    If you or someone you know uses opioids, it is a good idea to have a free naloxone kit. Naloxone is a medication that can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and allow time for medical help to arrive.

    Where does it come from?

    Some opioids, such as morphine and codeine, occur naturally as a gummy substance collected from the seed pod of the opium poppy, which grows in southern Asia. Semi-synthetic opioids, such as hydromorphone or hydrocodone, are made by changing the chemical structure of these naturally occurring opioids. Synthetic opioids, such as methadone, are made from chemicals without using a naturally occurring opioid as starting material.

    What does it look like?

    Prescription opioids come in various forms, including as tablets, capsules, syrups, solutions and suppositories.

    Who uses it?

    Opioids are prescribed by licensed medical practitioners to people with acute or chronic pain. Opioids are also prescribed to people with moderate to severe coughs and diarrhea. The opioids methadone and buprenorphine are prescribed to treat addiction to other opioids.

    Using prescription opioids for reasons other than their medical purpose is considered abuse. Much attention is given to the abuse of illegal opioid drugs, such as heroin. However, some of the most commonly abused opioids are prescription drugs, such as codeine-containing Tylenol, hydromorphone, oxycodone, morphine and others.

    How does it make you feel?

    Low doses of opioids suppress the sensation of pain and the emotional response to pain. They may also produce euphoria, drowsiness, relaxation, difficulty concentrating, constricted pupils, a slight decrease in respiratory rate, nausea, vomiting, constipation, loss of appetite and sweating. With higher doses, these effects are more intense and last longer.

    The way opioids affect you depends on many factors, including:

    how much you use

    how often and how long you use opioids

    how you take them (e.g., by injection, orally)

    your mood, expectations and environment

    your age

    whether you have certain pre-existing medical or psychiatric conditions

    whether you’ve taken any alcohol or other drugs (illegal, prescription, over-the-counter or herbal).

    How long does the feeling last?

    The onset and intensity of the effects of opioids vary depending on how the drugs are taken. When taken orally, the effects come on gradually and are usually felt in about 10 to 20 minutes. When injected into a vein, the effects are most intense and are felt within one minute. When opioids are taken to relieve pain, the duration of the effect varies depending on the type of opioid taken. For many opioids, a single dose can provide pain relief for four to five hours.

    Is it addictive?

    When opioids are used as directed under medical supervision, there is little risk of addiction. However, the risk appears to be higher in people with a history of abuse or addiction.

    Anyone who takes opioids regularly will develop physical dependence. Physical dependence is the result of the body adapting to the presence of the drug, and is not the same as addiction. A person who is physically dependent will experience withdrawal symptoms about six to 12 hours after last taking a short-acting opioid, such as hydromorphone, and about one to three days after last taking a long-acting opioid, such as methadone. With short-acting opioids, withdrawal comes on quickly and is intense; with longer-acting opioids, withdrawal comes on more gradually and is less intense.

    Symptoms of withdrawal include:

    uneasiness yawning tears diarrhea abdominal cramps goosebumps runny nose

    craving for the drug.

    Symptoms usually subside after a week, although some, such as anxiety, insomnia and drug craving, may continue for a long time. Opioid withdrawal is rarely life-threatening.

    Is it dangerous?

    Opioids can be dangerous if they are used without medical supervision. Here are some of the reasons why:

    Source : www.camh.ca

    What Are Opioids?

    Opioids are a class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant and that work in the brain to produce a variety of effects, including the relief of pain with many of these drugs.

    Search Menu Opioid Addiction In This Section

    What Are Opioids?

    Opioids are a class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant and that work in the brain to produce a variety of effects, including the relief of pain with many of these drugs.

    Opioids can be prescription medications often referred to as painkillers, or they can be so-called street drugs, such as heroin.

    Many prescription opioids are used to block pain signals between the brain and the body and are typically prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. In addition to controlling pain, opioids can make some people feel relaxed, happy or “high,” and can be addictive. Additional side effects can include slowed breathing, constipation, nausea, confusion and drowsiness.

    Opioids by Name

    Opioids are sometimes referred to as narcotics and although they do relieve pain, they do not fall into the same category as over-the-counter painkillers such as aspirin and Tylenol.

    The most commonly used opioids are:

    prescription opioids, such as OxyContin and Vicodin

    fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50–100 times more potent than morphine

    heroin, an illegal drug

    Using Opioids

    Opioid use does not come without risks. Regular use of these prescribed medications can increase your tolerance and dependence, requiring higher and more frequent doses. In some cases longer term use can lead to addiction (or what doctors will call “opioid use disorder”). In addition, opioids can restrict your ability to breathe when taken at a higher dose, and when misused, can lead to a fatal overdose. The risk of respiratory depression (slowing or even stopping your breathing), increases if you have never taken an opioid before or if you are taking other medications/drugs that interact with the opioid. Opioids, which can interact with diseases, too, should only be used if needed for pain, including if alternatives for pain control are not effective.

    Be sure to review your current medications and disclose any past or present drug use with your doctor when discussing whether an opioid prescription is right for you. If you have a personal or family history of substance abuse, you may be at increased risk of becoming more easily dependent on opioids, and you should tell your health care provider about this. Also be sure to ask about alternative treatments. If you and your health care provider agree that an opioid prescription is the best option for managing your pain, follow all treatment instructions and “mind your meds” to keep yourself and your community safe.

    Common Drug Names and Brand Names of Opioids

    When any of these drugs are prescribed to you or a family member for any reason, be aware that they are opioids and should be taken as directed and only when needed.

    Prescription Opioids

    Oxycodone +



    Hydrocodone bitartrate











    + Morphine + Morphine-Naltrexone + Hydromorphone + Fentanyl Cirtrate + Fentanyl +

    Codeine Poli-Chlorphenir Poli


    Acetaminophen with codeine phosphate/Acetaminophen-Codeine

    + Methadone +

    Methadone Hydrochloride

    + Morphine Sulfate +

    Oxymorphone Hydrochloride

    + Meperidine + Tramadol + Carfentanil + Buprenorphine +


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    Source : www.hopkinsmedicine.org

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