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Drug and Alcohol Information


Know About Opioids ..

What are opioids?

Opioids, simply speaking, are a class of drugs usually prescribed for the suppression of severe pain. This quality or use of the drug is given by its ability to act on the opioid receptors of the brain and create a euphoric (happy) effect. In addition to alleviating severe pain and chronic headaches, opioids are also often prescribed for treatment of diarrhea, suppressing cough, in patients recovering from surgery, and even treating its withdrawal symptoms. This is because the drug, being a painkiller and capable of making one feel happy and high, has become a commonly abused drug among a lot of persons. When abused, opioids can become quite addictive, like heroin and other street drugs.

Know About Opioids ..

How opioids work

Opioids work by attaching themselves to the opioid receptors in the nervous system. These opioid receptors are proteins and are found specifically in the spinal cord, brain and also the gastrointestinal tract. Once bound to the nervous system, they work to block pain signals coming from the body to the brain, and so, the body feels less intensity of the pain.

As effective as they are, opioids become addictive when used frequently because the body learns to tolerate the dose, and the brain tells the body that it needs the drug continuously for survival. This leads to dependence on the drug—the likelihood of addiction increases when opioids are used for long-term suppression of pain. When the body gains tolerance of the drug, then it would require more doses. And when the medication is discontinued, several withdrawal symptoms are observed.


Types of opioids

Opioids | Addiction Treatment Center

Opioids may come in different names. In fact, when you go to a health professional and drugs are prescribed for you, some of these drugs might contain opioids if your ailment is chronic pain. But most opioid-containing drugs do not sell under the name “opioid.” If you see any of the following drugs, then you are dealing with opioids:

  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone-Acetaminophen
  • Hydrocodone bitartrate
  • Hydrocodone-Homatropine
  • Hydrocodone-Ibuprofen
  • Pseudoephedrine-Hydrocodone
  • Hydrocodone-Chlorpheniramine
  • Hydrocodone-Cpm-Pseudoephed
  • Morphine
  • Morphine-Naltrexone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Fentanyl Citrate
  • Fentanyl
  • Codeine Poli-Chlorphenir Poli
  • Acetaminophen with codeine phosphate/Acetaminophen-Codeine
  • Methadone
  • Methadone Hydrochloride
  • Morphine Sulfate
  • Oxymorphone Hydrochloride
  • Meperidine
  • Tramadol
  • Carfentanil
  • Buprenorphine


Some of these drugs may also be sold under brand names like OxyContin, Percocet, Palladone and Vicodin. Note the use of these drugs is legal and administered in different dosages and length depending on the nature of ailment and severity of pain. In fact, codeine is a highly effective cough suppressant but has become a commonly abused drug because of the feeling of “high” it creates. However, there is a form of opioid, which is heroin, and heroin has no sanctioned medical use. 

Opioids, like most other narcotics, come with side effects. The side effects of opioids come in two forms; short-term and long-term. The short term effects may be felt any time the drug is administered.

Side-effects of opioids


Side-effects of opioids

Opioids, like most other narcotics, come with side effects. The side effects of opioids come in two forms; short-term and long-term. The short term effects may be felt any time the drug is administered.

Short term effects of opioid include:

  • Itch
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Sleepiness
  • Shallow breathing
  • Dry mouth
  • Cognitive effects
  • Dizziness
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Impaired sexual function
  • Decreased testosterone levels
  • Depression
  • Immunodeficiency
  • Increased pain sensitivity
  • Irregular menstruation
  • Loss of consciousness

Some of these effects could be very severe and life-threatening.


National Statistics


people in the United States

die after overdosing on opioids each day

21% to 29%

of patients

prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them

4% to 6%

of people

who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin


Long-term effects of opioids

The long-term effects of opioids derive from the fact that continuous use of the drug leads to increased tolerance levels. This means the body would adapt to the current dosage, and so the individual would then require a greater dosage of the drug to obtain the same feeling of high or pain suppression. The nervous system gets so used to the drug that it tells the body that it can no longer survive without the drug. This leads to drug dependence and consequently, addiction. 

When the drug is then discontinued, the body has to struggle to adjust, and then withdrawal symptoms are suffered. These withdrawal symptoms may include insomnia, restlessness, jittery nerves, diarrhoea, vomiting, cold flashes with goosebumps, muscle and bone pain. So many cases of death have been reported due to prolonged use of opioids. In 2016, opioid overdose resulted in the death of 1.7 in 10,000 people in the United States.

However, opioids do not cause any organ toxicity as with some other painkillers like aspirin and paracetamol.


Opioid overdose and addiction

As have been said, continuous use of opioids leads to increased tolerance for the drug and hence, an increased dosage is then required. This is the beginning of addiction. Increased dosage often leads to opioid overdose and the effect of overdose is life-threatening.

The fatal signs of opioid overdose include the following:

  • The victim develops an ashen face
  • Their body becomes limp
  • They begin to vomit in a most alarming way
  • Fingernails and/or lips get darker
  • They become incapable of speech
  • They sleep for long hours and are unable to be aroused
  • They develop very slow breathing or completely stop breathing.

When any of the above is noticed, the victim should be rushed immediately to a nearby health centre, or call 911.

When a person becomes unable to stop taking the drug without experiencing painful withdrawal symptoms, it means they are already addicted (dependent on the drug).


  • Common signs to know when a person has become addicted include:
  • Getting into constant trouble with the law
  • Showing mood swings and unnecessary aggression
  • Eating disorder
  • Sadness and depression
  • Trouble sleeping.


How to use opioid with care and avoid addiction

Opioids are highly effective in pain suppression and a number of health conditions, but undisciplined use may lead to addiction. Therefore, ensure you use opioids under the supervision and prescription of a physician.



American Society of Anesthesiologists (n.d). What Are Opioids? Retrieved February 27, 2020, from https://www.asahq.org/whensecondscount/pain-management/opioid-treatment/what-are-opioids/

Wikipedia: Opioid. Retrieved February 27, 2020, from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opioid

MedlinePlus: Opioid Misuse and Addiction. Retrieved February 27, 2020, from https://medlineplus.gov/opioidmisuseandaddiction.html

JOHNS HOPKINS Medicine: Opioid Addiction. Retrieved February 27, 2020, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/opioids/what-are-opioids.html

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