Opioids are a class of medication that include the illegal drug heroin, and legal synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, as well as pain relievers such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine and others. These drugs are legally accessible through a prescription from a health care provider.
Opioid-based medications, when used correctly under a health care provider's direction, are highly effective pain relievers. However, you should be very careful when using opioids, even under your doctor’s supervision, as misusing prescription opioids can lead to dangerous risks of dependence and addiction.
Prescription drug addiction occurs when someone either continues to self-medicate with a prescription drug beyond the prescribed use of the medicine, or when someone not prescribed the drug obtains and uses it recreationally.The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, but can lead to changes in the brain that create addiction and challenge an addicted person’s self-control by interfering with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs.As people use 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 like heroin. These substances vary in purity and strength, which increases the risk of serious medical complications or overdose.
Treatments for opioid abuse and addiction include medicines, counseling and behavioral therapies and residential and hospital-based programs. Treatment often includes medication assisted treatment (MAT) which is a combined psychotherapy and medication treatment. Established research validates that MAT is a highly effective approach.
Recovery from opioid dependence is a long-term process, and relapses can be expected for some people along the way.
Most people are first introduced to opioids through a medical professional providing treatment for pain relief. Commonly, patients seeking care after back surgery, dental work, an emergency room visit for extreme pain associated with a broken bone, or minor car accident are prescribed opioids.