Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin as well as powerful pain relievers available legally by prescription.
Opioids, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, fentanyl, and many others, are chemically related and interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain. Opioid pain relievers are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor, but they are frequently misused (taken in a different way or in a greater quantity than prescribed, or taken without a doctor’s prescription) because they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief. Regular use —even as prescribed by a doctor— can produce dependence, and when misused or abused, opioid pain relievers can lead to fatal overdose. The current epidemic of prescription opioid abuse has led to increased use of heroin, which presents similar dangers.
Prescription painkillers are powerful drugs that can be dangerous, or even deadly, especially when taken at high doses or combined with alcohol. A single large dose can cause breathing difficulty that can lead to death. The short-term effects of painkiller abuse can include lack of energy, inability to concentrate, nausea and vomiting.
Because of their effect on the brain, prescription painkillers can be highly addictive when used for non-medical purposes. Even patients who are prescribed painkillers for a long time can develop a “physical dependence,” meaning that the body becomes accustomed to having the drug. Stopping the drug abruptly can cause severe withdrawal symptoms, so, any changes when using these medications must be reported to and carefully monitored by a doctor.