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Understanding Opioids: What Are They?

The news is filled with stories about the opioid epidemic, but what exactly are opioids? Opioids include illegal drugs like heroin and fentanyl and legal controlled substances like oxycodone and hydrocodone, which are prescribed for pain relief. 

Keep reading if you’re curious about opioids and want to understand them better.

Woman pouring pills out of a bottle into her hand. Graphic lists treatment options for opioid addiction including residential treatment and therapy.

Key Takeaways

Opioids are powerful pain-relieving drugs, including prescription medications like morphine and synthetic drugs like fentanyl. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Opioids are primarily used for pain management and anesthesia during surgery.
  • Risks associated with opioids include addiction, dependence, overdose, and death.
  • The opioid epidemic is a significant public health concern, with many overdose deaths involving opioids.
  • Treatment options for opioid addiction include residential treatment, medication-assisted treatment, and counseling.

For a brighter, healthier, and addiction-free tomorrow, call (845) 479-6888 today.

Categorizing Opioids

Opioids are a class of drugs, including prescription medications like morphine and synthetic drugs like fentanyl, known for their powerful pain-relieving properties. They bind to receptors in the brain and can lead to tolerance, dependence, and, if misused, opioid use disorder or overdose. There are many types of opioids. Let’s break them down:

Prescription Opioids

Prescription opioids are pain-relief medicines that doctors prescribe. They help patients manage severe pain. These drugs work by attaching to particular brain parts called opioid receptors. When they do this, they lessen the pain signals our bodies send. Prescription opioids are safe when used as directed by a doctor.


One common type of prescription opioid is morphine. It’s often used after surgery or for severe pain. Morphine is safe when administered by a medical professional. Doctors carefully control the doses of morphine to prevent addiction or overdose.

Synthetic Opioids

Synthetic opioids are made in labs, unlike natural opioids like morphine. One example of a synthetic opioid is fentanyl. Synthetic opioids are very powerful and are used mainly for intense pain or as anesthesia during surgery. But using too much can lead to opioid overdose, a dangerous situation where the body struggles to function normally.

Medical Uses of Opioids

Opioids are essential in medicine, helping people manage pain and sometimes even save lives. Let’s explore these medical uses in simple terms.

Pain Management

Painkillers or pain relievers are the common names for opioids when used to manage pain. A healthcare provider often prescribes them to people experiencing severe or chronic pain, like after surgery or due to certain chronic diseases.

These drugs block pain receptors, stopping the flow of information from nerve cells to the brain. They can provide much-needed relief for those suffering but also come with the risk of opioid dependence and severe side effects.


In medical procedures, opioids play a crucial role in providing anesthesia. Anesthesia is what keeps us pain-free during surgery or other medical interventions. Medications like fentanyl and oxycodone help ensure patients don’t feel pain during these times.

Treatment for Drug Dependence

Surprisingly, opioids can also help people struggling with addiction to illegal opioids like heroin. A medically supervised taper with drugs like methadone and buprenorphine can reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings, making it easier for those in recovery to rebuild their lives.

Risks of Opioid Use

While opioids have their place in medicine, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks linked with their use. Let’s explore these risks in simple terms.

Addiction and Dependence

One significant risk of using opioids is the potential for addiction and dependence. When taken, especially at higher doses or for an extended period, opioids can lead to a strong desire to use them, even when not needed for pain relief. This can disrupt daily life and behaviors, affecting the person using the opioids and those around them, like family members and friends.

Overdose and Death

Consuming too many opioids can lead to an overdose, which can be fatal. An overdose happens when the body can’t handle the respiratory depression caused by the opioids, leading to slowed or stopped breathing. In recent years, opioid overdoses have become a significant public health concern in some areas, mainly due to illicit drugs such as heroin and fentanyl.

Fortunately, a life-saving medication called Narcan can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Narcan is available without a prescription. If you or a loved one is at risk for an opioid overdose, always carry Narcan. Emergency services also carry Narcan. If someone is experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately. You will not face legal repercussions for illegal opioid use when calling for medical help.

The Opioid Epidemic: Statistics and Impact

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2021, drug overdose deaths increased by more than 16 percent.

Shockingly, over 75 percent of the nearly 107,000 drug overdose deaths involved an opioid. Opioids play a major role in overdose cases. Everyone should be aware of the risks linked with opioid use and take steps to prevent misuse and overdose.

Treating Opioid Addiction

Overcoming opioid addiction is possible, and various effective treatment options are available. Let’s explore a few treatment options for teens struggling with opioid addiction:

Residential Treatment

Residential treatment involves staying at a specialized facility where you receive intensive support and counseling to help you recover from opioid addiction. In treatment, teens receive therapy, medication, schooling, and structured recreational time. It’s a structured and supportive environment where you can focus on your recovery. 

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) combines counseling and therapy with medications like methadone or buprenorphine to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings. These medications can make the recovery process more manageable.

Counseling and Therapy

Counseling and therapy sessions, whether individual or group-based, provide a safe space to explore the emotional and psychological aspects of addiction. Therapists help you develop strategies to cope with triggers and stressors.

Support Groups

Support groups connect you with others on the path to recovery. Sharing experiences and encouragement within a group setting can be beneficial and provide a sense of community. Support groups allow you to make new friends and form a new identity around recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the strongest painkiller?

Morphine, a natural opioid, is often considered among the strongest painkillers. It’s used for severe pain, especially after surgery or in palliative care. Other potent painkillers like fentanyl and hydromorphone are also available but require careful administration due to their strength. Ask your doctor how to manage your pain and avoid addiction.

What are opioids, and are they addictive?

Opioids are powerful pain-relief drugs, including prescription medications like oxycodone and illegal drugs like heroin. They can be highly addictive, leading to dependence when abused. Understanding their addictive potential is essential for responsible use and avoiding the risk of addiction.

Opioid Addiction Support for Teens

Our dedicated team is here to guide you on the path to recovery.

We offer tailored programs to address your opioid, cocaine, and alcohol addiction, providing a safe and welcoming environment for healing. Our facility offers a safe space for teens ages 13 to 17 to recover from drug and alcohol addiction with innovative therapies like art and music therapy. Our evidence-based program works hard to help teenagers get back on track to achieve their goals. 

Contact us at (845) 479-6888 today to learn more about our services and start your journey to recovery.

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