I Want To...
I Want To...
Find Research Faculty
Enter the last name, specialty or keyword for your search below.
School of Medicine
I Want to...
What Are Opioids?
Opioids are a class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant and that work in the brain to produce a variety of effects, including the relief of pain with many of these drugs.
Opioids can be prescription medications often referred to as painkillers, or they can be so-called street drugs, such as heroin.
Many prescription opioids are used to block pain signals between the brain and the body and are typically prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. In addition to controlling pain, opioids can make some people feel relaxed, happy or “high,” and can be addictive. Additional side effects can include slowed breathing, constipation, nausea, confusion and drowsiness.
Opioids by Name
Opioids are sometimes referred to as narcotics and although they do relieve pain, they do not fall into the same category as over-the-counter painkillers such as aspirin and Tylenol.
The most commonly used opioids are:
prescription opioids, such as OxyContin and Vicodin
fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50–100 times more potent than morphine
heroin, an illegal drug
Opioid use does not come without risks. Regular use of these prescribed medications can increase your tolerance and dependence, requiring higher and more frequent doses. In some cases longer term use can lead to addiction (or what doctors will call “opioid use disorder”). In addition, opioids can restrict your ability to breathe when taken at a higher dose, and when misused, can lead to a fatal overdose. The risk of respiratory depression (slowing or even stopping your breathing), increases if you have never taken an opioid before or if you are taking other medications/drugs that interact with the opioid. Opioids, which can interact with diseases, too, should only be used if needed for pain, including if alternatives for pain control are not effective.
Be sure to review your current medications and disclose any past or present drug use with your doctor when discussing whether an opioid prescription is right for you. If you have a personal or family history of substance abuse, you may be at increased risk of becoming more easily dependent on opioids, and you should tell your health care provider about this. Also be sure to ask about alternative treatments. If you and your health care provider agree that an opioid prescription is the best option for managing your pain, follow all treatment instructions and “mind your meds” to keep yourself and your community safe.
Common Drug Names and Brand Names of Opioids
When any of these drugs are prescribed to you or a family member for any reason, be aware that they are opioids and should be taken as directed and only when needed.
- Xtampza ER
- Xartemis XR
- Xodol 10/300
- Zohydro ER
- Xylon 10
- Infumorph P/F
- MS Contin
- Oramorph SR
- Arymo ER
Codeine Poli-Chlorphenir Poli
- Tuzistra XR
Acetaminophen with codeine phosphate/Acetaminophen-Codeine