What are opioids?
Opioids are a group of drugs that are used to treat pain. Prescription opioids are often prescribed to relieve moderate to severe pain.
Made from the opium poppy plant, or produced artificially, opioids activate the brain’s opioid receptors and reduce pain by attaching these receptors and reducing the perception of pain.
How does Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) develop?
When used short term and taken as prescribed, the risk of addiction, or dependence, is lower. Over time, people may develop tolerance to opioids and increase the dosage to relieve pain, which increases chances of addiction and overdose.
Opioid Use Disorder involves the chronic, or long-term, use of opioids that can develop into addiction or dependence on opioids. Some symptoms of opioid addiction include increased opioid tolerance, inability to quit or to lower the dose, persistent desire to use opioids, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping opioids.
Addiction to opioids is a treatable, medical condition. Evidence-based treatments like Medications for Addiction Treatment (MAT) and Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD) are effective at treating addiction to opioids.
Types of Opioids
Types of prescription opioids include:
- Fentanyl (Duragesic)
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco)
- Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
- Meperidine (Demerol)
- Methadone Morphine (MS Contin, Kadian)
- Oxymorphone (Opana)
- Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
- Tramadol (Ultram)
- Learn more about non-opioid pain management options and opioid safety at the prevention at home page.
- Illegally made or counterfeit opioid pills may resemble prescription opioids but are often mixed with other substances like fentanyl.
Heroin is an illegal, highly addictive opioid drug developed from morphine. It is 50 times more powerful than morphine and has a high risk for misuse and overdose. Nearly 130,000 Americans died from heroin-related overdoses from 1999-2019. It is not uncommon for people who are using heroin to also be using other substances including cocaine, and prescription opioids.
When combined with other substances, or on its own, heroin use can lead to vomiting, slowed heart rate, coma, liver disease, death from overdose, and more.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is used to treat severe pain. It is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, and has a high risk for misuse, abuse, and overdose. Fentanyl can be dangerous and fatal, even in small amounts. Six out of every 10 drug overdose deaths in Alaska involved fentanyl.
In recent years, fentanyl-related harm and overdose have been linked to illegally made fentanyl that is often mixed with heroin, cocaine, and other drugs to enhance its effects.
Date revised/update: 06/08/2022