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About opioids

Opioids are drugs with pain relieving properties that are used primarily to treat pain.

Opioids can also induce euphoria (feeling high), which gives them the potential to be used improperly.

Opioids can be prescribed medications:

Opioids can also be produced or obtained illegally.

Opioid medications

Opioids are intended to treat pain.

Doctors may also sometimes prescribe them for other conditions, such as:

Prescription opioid medications are available in various forms, such as:

If you have been prescribed an opioid medicine, it should:

Keep your medication safe to help prevent problematic use by others by:

Unused portions of opioid medicine should always be:

Short-term effects of opioids

The short-term side effects of using opioids may include:

Long-term effects of opioids

The longer-term side effects of using opioids may include:

Even when prescribed to treat a specific condition or pain, there are serious side effects and risks of using opioids, including:

If you have been taking opioids for a period of time, your body becomes accustomed to or tolerant of that opioid dose. You may require increasing amounts of the opioid to get the same effect. If you stop taking the drug for a few days and then start taking the drug at the same dose you were used to, it may increase chances of an overdose. This is because you lose tolerance to the medication when stopping it, even for a few days.

You are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when you lower your opioid dose quickly or you suddenly stop taking it. If you plan to reduce your dose, do it with help from a health care provider.

Problematic opioid use

Opioids have the potential for problematic use because they can produce euphoria (feeling high).

When people think about problematic opioid use, they often think about when someone takes an illegally produced or obtained opioid, such as:

Problematic use of opioids also includes when you:

Substance use disorder

When someone is affected by substance use disorder, or addiction, they crave the drug and continue using it despite the harmful effects. The drug becomes the focus of their feelings, thoughts and activities.

Opioid use disorder also changes the brain and the body in ways that can make it hard to stop using. This is because the body gets used to a regular supply of the drug. If you stop using the drug, or lower your dose quickly, you will likely experience withdrawal symptoms.

Physical withdrawal effects may include:

The severity of withdrawal and how long it lasts depend on:

Substance use disorder treatment may include:

Medication-assisted treatment involves taking a prescribed opioid medication such as:

Help for substance use disorder

Help is available whether you need it for yourself, a friend or a family member. You can also contact your health care provider for help with substance use disorder.


An overdose can happen when you take too much of an opioid. Opioids affect the part of your brain that controls your breathing. When you take more opioids than your body can handle, your breathing slows. This can lead to unconsciousness and even death.

You are at risk of an overdose if you take:

Learn more about opioid overdose.

Other health risks of using opioids


Some people inject opioids with a needle.

If you share needles with others you have a higher chance of getting infected with viruses like the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or hepatitis C.

You can permanently harm your veins and organs by injecting drugs.


There is an increased risk of premature delivery for women who use opioids regularly, including prescription opioids. There is also a risk the baby may be born with life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

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