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NIDA

Opioids

Brief Description

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.

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Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs for 8th Graders, 10th Graders, and 12th Graders; 2016 (in percent)*
Drug Time Period 8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
Heroin Past Year 0.30 0.30 0.30
Narcotics other than Heroin Past Year - - 4.80
Vicodin Past Year 0.80 1.70 [2.90]
OxyContin Past Year 0.90 2.10 3.40

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National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs for Ages 12 or Older, Ages 12 to 17, Ages 18 to 25, and Ages 26 or Older; 2015 (in percent)*
Drug Time Period Ages 12 or Older Ages 12 to 17 Ages 18 to 25 Ages 26 or Older
Heroin Past Year 0.30 0.10 0.60 0.30
Pain Relievers Past Year 4.70 3.90 8.50 4.10

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Past information on many drugs of abuse is available on our Archives site.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies in human volunteers conducted to answer specific health questions. Learn about the NIH-sponsored clinical trials available to you.

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This page was last updated May 2017

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    NIDA. (2017, May 24). Opioids. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids

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    Prescribing Guideline for Opioids for Chronic Pain

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