What Are They?

Opioids are a class of drugs including heroin, fentanyl and prescription drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine. They are used to block pain signals between the body and the brain. Although they are effective at relieving pain, they are highly addictive especially when used to treat chronic, long-term pain.

Potential Short-Term Use Side Effects:

  • Sleepiness
  • Constipation
  • Itching
  • Nausea

Potential Long-Term Use Side Effects:

  • Developing a tolerance (needing more opioid for the same pain relief)
  • Physical dependence (having symptoms of withdrawal when the opioid is stopped)
  • Addiction
  • Overdose (if any of the below symptoms occur, seek medical attention immediately)
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Death

Opioid Safety

Doctors might prescribe certain opioids to help control pain. Make sure to follow this safety checklist if you’re prescribed opioids:

  • Take the opioid medicine exactly as prescribed
  • Don’t take any other medicines unless you check with your doctor or pharmacist first
  • Do not drink alcohol—1) Its illegal to drink under 21 & 2) It can cause serious medical problems or death
  • Do not drive, ride a bike or operate any machinery while taking opioids since it makes you sleepy
  • Don’t take opioids if pregnant
  • Do not share your medicines with anyone
  • Safely dispose of any leftover opioids as soon as you no longer need them (ask your pharmacist how to safely dispose of leftovers)

For more information on how to properly store medication and dispose of unneeded prescriptions click on the link below:

Prescription Security Resources

Did You Know?

  • There were 1,953 opioid overdose deaths in North Carolina in 2017
  • More than 47,600 people died of opioid overdoses in the U.S. in 2017
  • NC doctors wrote 72 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons in 2017
  • The average U.S. rate was 59 prescriptions per 100 person in 2017
  • 103,000 U.S. adolescents had an opioid use disorder or addiction in 2017
  • Adolescent athletes in high-injury sports are at a 50% higher risk of misusing opioids than their non-athlete peers
  • More than 13 million opioid prescriptions are dispensed each month in the U.S.
  • Naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan, is a life-saving medication used to counter the effects of opioid overdose

How Can People Get Help for a Substance Abuse Disorder?

Call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for free and confidential services.


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John Hopkins Medicine

American Society of Anesthesiologists

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National Institute on Drug Abuse

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

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