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Opioid Use Disorder


Understanding Opioids

Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin; synthetic opioids such as fentanyl; and prescription pain relievers such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others.

Prescription Opioids – In addition to the serious risks of addiction, abuse, and overdose, the use of prescription opioids can have many side effects, even when taken as directed.

Fentanyl and Other Synthetic Opioids – Fentanyl and similar compounds like carfentanil are powerful synthetic opioids—50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. High doses of opioids, especially potent opioids such as fentanyl, can cause breathing to stop completely, which can lead to death.

Heroin – Heroin is a highly addictive drug made from morphine, which comes from opium poppy plants. Some prescription opioid pain medicines have effects similar to heroin. Research suggests that misuse of these drugs may open the door to heroin use.

When used correctly under a health care provider’s direction, prescription pain medicines are helpful. However, misusing prescription opioids can lead to physical dependence, tolerance building, addiction, and potentially fatal overdoses.

Understanding Drug Use and Addiction

The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, but can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs.


There are a variety of ways to help reduce exposure to opioids and prevent Opioid Use Disorder (OUD), such as:

Before taking opioid medication for acute or chronic pain:

  • Discuss with your doctor pain treatment options, including ones that do not involve prescription drugs.
  • Tell your doctor about your medical history and if you or anyone in your family has a history of substance misuse or addiction to drugs or alcohol.
  • Discuss all of the risks and benefits of taking prescription opioids.

Talking openly with your health care provider will help to ensure you’re getting care that is safe, effective, and right for you. Set up a follow-up appointment with your doctor to reevaluate your pain and, if you have been taking opioids for more than a few days, give you guidance on the best way to cope with possible withdrawal symptoms when you stop. Also, never take opioids in higher amounts or more often than prescribed.

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Treatment services can be provided in a variety of settings and accessed through a large network of physicians and treatment facilities, including many primary care physicians.

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