​​​​​​​​​​Frequently Asked Questions About Opioids​​

Opioids are a class of drugs commonly used to manage pain but can also carry significant risks of addiction and overdose. As public

Untitled design (11).pngawareness of opioids increases, so do questions about their use, risks, and effects.

What are opioids?​​

Opioids are a class of drugs that include both prescription pain relievers, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine, as well as illicit drugs like heroin. They work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other areas of the body to reduce the perception of pain and produce feelings of euphoria.

What are Opioids Used For?

Opioids are primarily used to manage moderate to severe pain, such as pain associated with surgery, injury, or chronic conditions like cancer. They may also be used to treat severe coughing or diarrhea in some cases.​

Which Drugs are Opioids?

The three main classes of opioids are:

Natural opioids

Also called opiates, natural opioids come from the seed pods of the poppy plant. The poppy seeds you find in your morning muffin have had their opiate coating washed off, so they pose very little risk of even slight intoxication. Naturally derived opioids include:
  • codeine
  • morphine
  • opium

Semi-synthetic opioids

Semi-synthetic opioids are half-natural, half-artificial. Scientists synthesize them in a lab from codeine or morphine, creating more potent drugs than their plant-based precursors. The following opioids belong to the semi-synthetic category:​
  • heroin
  • hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
  • oxymorphone (Opana)​

Synthetic opioids

Synthetic opioids are completely developed in a lab. Three examples include:
  • fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, Sublimaze)
  • methadone (Dolophine, Methadose)
  • tramadol (Ultram)
Some synthetic opioids are more powerful than their natural or semi-synthetic cousins: Fentanyl is up to 100 timesTrusted Source stronger than morphine.

Are Opioids Addictive?

Yes, opioids can be highly addictive, especially when used improperly or for an extended period. Regular use of opioids can lead to ​physical dependence, tolerance (requiring higher doses to achieve the same effects), and addiction, characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behavior despite negative consequences.​

 Dr. Steve Holtsford on Withdrawal

What are the Risks of Opioid Use?

The risks of opioid use include addiction, overdose, slowed or stopped breathing, constipation, drowsiness, confusion, and in severe cases, coma or death. Long-term use of opioids can also lead to physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms when stopping the medication.

How Can I Prevent Opioid Addiction?

To reduce the risk of opioid addiction, it's essential to use these medications exactly as prescribed by a healthcare provider. Avoid taking opioids for longer than necessary and never exceed the prescribed dose. If you have a history of substance use disorder or are concerned about addiction, discuss alternative pain management options with your doctor.

What Should I do if I Think Someone is Overdosing on Opioids?

If you suspect someone is experiencing an opioid overdose, call 911 immediately. Give naloxone (if available) even if you're not sure the person has taken opioids, and perform rescue breathing if the person is not breathing or has shallow breathing. Stay with the person until emergency responders arrive and provide any assistance you can. Get naloxone.  Don't wait for an overdose situation to learn how to respond​.  

How Can I Dispose of Unused Opioids Safely?

To prevent misuse and accidental ingestion, it's essential to dispose of unused opioids properly. Kane County area pharmacies and police departments offer drug take-back programs​ where you can safely dispose of unused medications. If a take-back program is not available, follow FDA guidelines for safe disposal​.