What Are Opioids?
Opioids are a class of drugs that include pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, the illegal drug heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.
Opioids can make people feel very relaxed and "high" which is why they are sometimes used for non-medical reasons. This can be dangerous because opioids can be highly addictive, and overdoses and death are common. Heroin is one of the world's most dangerous opioids, and is never used as a medicine in the United States.
How do Opioids Work?
Opioids bind to and activate opioid receptors on cells located in many areas of the brain, spinal cord, and other organs in the body, especially those involved in feelings of pain and pleasure. When opioids attach to these receptors, they block pain signals sent from the brain to the body and release large amounts of dopamine throughout the body. This release can strongly reinforce the act of taking the drug, making the user want to repeat the experience.
How Are Opioids Misused?
Opioids used for pain relief are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor, but they can be misused. People misuse prescription opioids by:
- Taking the medicine in a way or dose other than prescribed
- Taking someone else's prescription medicine
- Taking the medicine for the effect it causes-to get high
Opioid misuse can cause slowed breathing, which can cause hypoxia, a condition that results when too little oxygen reaches the brain. Hypoxia can have short- and long-term effects, including coma, permanent brain damage, or death.
While many people benefit from using these medications to manage pain, prescription drugs are frequently misued. As people use prescription opioids repeatedly, their tolerance increases and they may not be able to maintain the source for the drugs. This can cause them to turn to the black market for these drugs and even switch from prescription drugs to cheaper and more risky substitutes such as heroin or illicit fentanyl.(Source: The National Institute on Drug Abuse) https://www.drugabuse.gov