M, morph (for morphine); meth (for methadone); percs (for Percodan, Percocet); juice (for Dilaudid)
Opioids are a family of drugs that are usually prescribed to relieve pain. Examples include codeine (in Tylenol No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4), oxycodone, morphine, hydromorphone (Dilaudid) and fentanyl. Other medical uses include controlling coughs and diarrhea, and treating addiction to other opioids. Opioids can produce euphoria, making them prone to abuse. Some people use opioids for their ability to produce a mellow, relaxed “high.”
If you or someone you know uses opioids, it is a good idea to have a free naloxone kit. Naloxone is a medication that can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and allow time for medical help to arrive.
Some opioids, such as morphine and codeine, occur naturally as a gummy substance collected from the seed pod of the opium poppy, which grows in southern Asia. Semi-synthetic opioids, such as hydromorphone or hydrocodone, are made by changing the chemical structure of these naturally occurring opioids. Synthetic opioids, such as methadone, are made from chemicals without using a naturally occurring opioid as starting material.
Prescription opioids come in various forms, including as tablets, capsules, syrups, solutions and suppositories.
Opioids are prescribed by licensed medical practitioners to people with acute or chronic pain. Opioids are also prescribed to people with moderate to severe coughs and diarrhea. The opioids methadone and buprenorphine are prescribed to treat addiction to other opioids.
Using prescription opioids for reasons other than their medical purpose is considered abuse. Much attention is given to the abuse of illegal opioid drugs, such as heroin. However, some of the most commonly abused opioids are prescription drugs, such as codeine-containing Tylenol, hydromorphone, oxycodone, morphine and others.
Low doses of opioids suppress the sensation of pain and the emotional response to pain. They may also produce euphoria, drowsiness, relaxation, difficulty concentrating, constricted pupils, a slight decrease in respiratory rate, nausea, vomiting, constipation, loss of appetite and sweating. With higher doses, these effects are more intense and last longer.
The way opioids affect you depends on many factors, including:
The onset and intensity of the effects of opioids vary depending on how the drugs are taken. When taken orally, the effects come on gradually and are usually felt in about 10 to 20 minutes. When injected into a vein, the effects are most intense and are felt within one minute. When opioids are taken to relieve pain, the duration of the effect varies depending on the type of opioid taken. For many opioids, a single dose can provide pain relief for four to five hours.
When opioids are used as directed under medical supervision, there is little risk of addiction. However, the risk appears to be higher in people with a history of abuse or addiction.
Anyone who takes opioids regularly will develop physical dependence. Physical dependence is the result of the body adapting to the presence of the drug, and is not the same as addiction. A person who is physically dependent will experience withdrawal symptoms about six to 12 hours after last taking a short-acting opioid, such as hydromorphone, and about one to three days after last taking a long-acting opioid, such as methadone. With short-acting opioids, withdrawal comes on quickly and is intense; with longer-acting opioids, withdrawal comes on more gradually and is less intense.
Symptoms of withdrawal include:
Symptoms usually subside after a week, although some, such as anxiety, insomnia and drug craving, may continue for a long time. Opioid withdrawal is rarely life-threatening.
Opioids can be dangerous if they are used without medical supervision. Here are some of the reasons why:
Long-term use of opioids can cause constipation, decreased interest in sex, menstrual irregularities and mood swings. Addiction to opioids can have devastating long-term social, financial and emotional effects.
Do You Know... Prescription Opioids © 2012 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Visit our COVID resource hub for tools to help you find a path forward.
Keep your finger on our pulse – latest CAMH news, discoveries and ways to get involved delivered to your inbox.
Please select a newsletter
Please complete the following:
We look forward to keeping you informed, inspired and involved in all things CAMH.
We’re working toward a future where no one has to lose their life to suicide. Your donation will help us get there.