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 found 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 opioid facts for teens here.

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.

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