Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others. These drugs are chemically related and interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain. Opioid pain relievers are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor, but because they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief, they can be misused (taken in a different way or in a larger quantity than prescribed, or taken without a doctor’s prescription). Regular use—even as prescribed by a doctor—can lead to dependence and, when misused, opioid pain relievers can lead to overdose incidents and deaths. An opioid overdose can be reversed with the drug naloxone when given right away. Improvements have been seen in some regions of the country in the form of decreasing availability of prescription opioid pain relievers and decreasing misuse among the Nation’s teens. However, since 2007, overdose deaths related to heroin have been increasing. Fortunately, effective medications exist to treat opioid use disorders: methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. These medications could help many people recover from opioid addiction.
Learn more about opioids:
- Opioid Crisis
- NIDA Director Nora Volkow's presentation at the April 2017 National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit
- Opioid Overdose Reversal with Naloxone (Narcan, Evzio) - a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose
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|Drug||Time Period||8th Graders||10th Graders||12th Graders|
|Narcotics other than Heroin||Past Year||-||-||4.80|
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|Drug||Time Period||Ages 12 or Older||Ages 12 to 17||Ages 18 to 25||Ages 26 or Older|
|Pain Relievers||Past Year||4.70||3.90||8.50||4.10|
- Fact Sheets: Prescription Opioid Abuse and Heroin Use Epidemic (White House)
- Opioid Overdose Prevention Toolkit - Updated 2016 (SAMHSA)
- MEDLINEplus Health Information on Drug Abuse - National Library of Medicine, NIH
- www.abovetheinfluence.com - Office of National Drug Control Policy
- healthfinder.gov - U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Past information on many drugs of abuse is available on our Archives site.
Clinical trials are research studies in human volunteers conducted to answer specific health questions. Learn about the NIH-sponsored clinical trials available to you.
- NIDA Clinical Trial Locator - answer a few simple questions and get contact information for Clinical Trials near you.
Other Clinical Trials information sources:
- NIH Clinical Trials and You - NIH site that helps explain about clinical trials and why people participate.
- NIDA Trials at ClinicalTrials.gov - a resource of federally and privately supported clinical trials.
- Clinical Research Studies from the National Drug Abuse Treatment Clinical Trials Network (CTN) - a NIDA coordinated network of research institutions conducting human trials on drug abuse solutions.
- Research Studies at NIDA Intramural Research Program - located in Baltimore, Maryland.
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Cite this article
NIDA. (2017, May 24). Opioids. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids