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Drugs & Health Blog

Opioids: Just the Facts

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The NIDA Blog Team

There’s been a lot of talk about the opioid crisis lately. You might be wondering: What exactly are opioids? And why are they such a problem?

If you’ve had a sports injury or surgery, your doctor may have prescribed you an opioid for pain relief. When taken as prescribed by a medical professional, opioids are relatively safe and can be very good at treating pain.

However, some people misuse opioids to get high—"misuse"means taking a medication that wasn’t prescribed for you, or taking more of it than your doctor prescribed.

Here are some facts about opioids you should know:

What are opioids?

Opioids are naturally founf in the opium poppy plant. Some prescription opioids are made from this plant, and others are synthetic (made in labs).

What are the most commonly used opioids?

The most commonly used prescription opioids are oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, and morphine. Some slang terms for misused opioid pills are “Oxy,” “Percs,” and “Vikes.”

Another opioid, heroin, is not a medication and is often shot into the arm through a syringe to produce a high. Sometimes prescription opioids are misused by being crushed and injected.

What are the risks of misusing opioids?

Opioid misuse can cause harmful health effects like slowed breathing, which can lead to a fatal overdose.

When misused repeatedly, opioid use can also change the brain, leading to addiction.

Any other opioids I should know about?

Yes. Fentanyl is an opioid drug that’s 50 to 100 times more powerful than heroin. Medically, it’s used to treat extreme pain and for pain related to surgeries. But it’s also made illegally and mixed with other drugs. Illegal fentanyl is responsible for many fatal overdoses in people who thought they were taking another drug.

For your own safety, use an opioid only under the care of a doctor and only as prescribed.

Learn more: What to ask your dentist about opioids.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


Are there any interesting facts about opioids

Yes, there are many interesting facts about opioids! You check them out on our Opioids Drug Facts page at

Can opioids cause you to have severe memory loss? Like, if someone has a child and starts using and leaves the child, can they forget about them?

This is a good question. One side effect of opioids is confusion. (You can read more about opioids on our Drug Facts page: If you have specific questions about severe memory loss and opioids, we recommend you talk to a trusted health professional.

This is a good question. One side effect of opioids is confusion. (You can read more about opioids on our Drug Facts page: If you have specific questions about severe memory loss and opioids, we recommend you talk to a trusted health professional.

This info was very useful, I've had questions of what categories these drugs would be put in. Media plays a role in drug use because people my see another trying this drug releasing curiosity
If opioids are so addictive, why do people keep prescribing them. Why don’t they find another drug to prescribe that won’t cause so many people to becom addicted to them.

Great questions! Doctors and scientists are working to find alternatives to opioids. In the meantime, everyone has a part to play. Check out this blog for tips on what you can do to reduce the opioid crisis:

How often do people get addicted to opioids because they took ones that were prescribed to them?

Good question! For most people, when opioids are taken as prescribed by a medical professional for a short time, they are relatively safe and can reduce pain effectively. Carefully following the doctor’s instructions for taking a medication can make it less likely that someone will develop dependence or addiction, because the medication is prescribed in amounts and forms that are considered appropriate for that person. You can learn more about opioids on our Drug Facts page:

How big is the opioid crisis in America? How many people die from opioid overdoses each year?

Great questions! Last year, more than 115 Americans died every day from opioid overdose. To learn more, check out this video:

What if you only do it one time, can you still get addicted and be affected by the long term affects?

Great question! Scientists still don’t know how many times it can take for someone to become addicted to opioids. We do know that people who use prescription opioid medicines for a long period of time increase their risk of addiction and overdose. And in the short term, In addition to pain relief, other effects of opioids include sleepiness, confusion, nausea (feeling sick to the stomach), constipation, and slowed or stopped breathing. For more information on opioids, check out our Drug Facts page:

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