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Opioids are a class of drugs that include pain relievers available legally by prescription, the illegal drug heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Opioids act on opioid receptors in both the spinal cord and brain to reduce the intensity of pain-signal perception. Opioids also affect brain areas that control emotion, which can further diminish the effects of painful stimuli.

Prescription Opioids can be prescribed by doctors to treat moderate to severe pain, but can also have serious risks and side effects.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever. It is many times more powerful than other opioids and is approved for treating severe pain, typically Advanced cancer pain.

The illegal drug Heroin is also an opioid, however it will not be covered in great detail as opioid misuse focuses on the misuse of prescription drugs.

Prescription Opioids can be prescribed by doctors to treat moderate to severe pain, but can also have serious risks & side effects.

  • Codeine
  • Diphenoxylate (Lomotil®)
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin®)
  • Methadone
  • Morphine (Kadian®, Avinza®)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percocet®)
  • Oxymorphone (Opana®)

What is Opioid Misuse?

Opioid misuse or misuse of prescription drugs means taking medication in a manner other than prescribed (e.g., taking someone else's prescription, even if for a legitimate medical complaint such as pain; taking medication to feel euphoria (i.e., to get high).

Consequences for opioid misuse: social, economic, and health problems associated with substance use (e.g., illnesses, physical dependence, overdose, crime, car crashes, and suicides related to substance use).

Effects on the body: increased sensitivity to pain, constipation, drowsiness, mental confusion, nausea, vomiting and dry mouth, sleepiness, dizziness, confusion, depression, low levels of testosterone that can result in lower sex drive, energy and strength, itching and sweating.

Anyone who misuses opioids is at risk of overdosing. It does not matter if the individual is a new or experienced user or if the individual snorts, injects, or takes pills.

Naloxone (Narcan®, Evzio®) is a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. It binds to opioid receptors and can reverse and block the effects of other opioids. It can be administered via injection or nasal spray.

Signs of Opioid Overdose

  • Slow, shallowed breathing
  • Clammy skin
  • Convulsions
  • Respiratory
  • depression and arrest (stop breathing)
  • Coma
  • Death