- Opioids are a class of drugs that includes the illegal drug heroin as well as power pain relievers available by prescription, such as oxycodone (Oxycontin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine, fentanyl, methadone, and many others.
- Opioids bind to mu-opioid receptors on the nerve cells in the brain and body to reduce pain and suppress coughs when used legitimately, but can also cause intense euphoria or intense high that can lead to dependence and/or addiction, whether the drug ingested is heroin or a legally prescribed drug.
- The effects of opioids, particularly their rewarding, euphoric effects, are accentuated most when the drugs are delivered rapidly into the brain, thereby causing users “chasing the high” to snort or inject crushed prescription pills or heroin.
- Opioid overdose effects include severe depression of the respiratory system, potentially causing respiratory arrest, coma, and death.Opioid dependence and withdrawal is characterized by constricted nausea, mental confusion, drowsiness, severe sweats and constipation.
- Fentanyl, an opioid that is practically and effectively 50 and 100 times more potent than heroin or prescription opioids, is often used to adulterate heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and other “street drugs.” Overdose deaths often result from a user’s unwitting purchase and use of fentanyl when believing he or she is purchasing heroin or prescription pills. Fentanyl derivatives such as carfentanil, which is used to anesthetize elephants, is also being used to adulterate heroin, causing cluster overdose deaths.
Discussion of opioid prevention, treatment, enforcement, and deterrence in your community should address illicit drugs and prescription drugs, as opioids in all forms are present across the nation.
Updated March 1, 2021