Know the facts about prescription opioids

Even though prescription opioids are provided by a doctor, it’s important to understand the strength of each type of drug. Using them any other way than prescribed can be dangerous. Scroll down for quick explanations to some of the most common questions.

pills cupped in hands

What should I know about prescription opioids?

Click below to learn more about each topic.

Types of Opioids

The term “opioids” can be a bit confusing because it refers to an entire class of prescription and non-prescription drugs. There are many different types, forms and brands—some you may even be familiar with but never realized contained opioids. Below is a breakdown of the names used most often.

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Most commonly prescribed opioid in the U.S.

Brands include:

Vicodin®, Lorcet®, Vicoprofen



Usually in tablet or pill form

Brands include:

OxyContin®, Percocet®, Oxecta®, Roxicodone®



Primarily prescribed as a cough syrup or tablets

It’s often mixed with pain reducers like Tylenol® as a prescription®



Can come in tablets, liquid, or hospital injection

Brands include:

MS Contin®, Oramorph SR, MSIR, Roxanol, Kadian, RMS



Can come in immediate or slow-release pills or tablets

Brands include:

ConZip, FusePaq Synapryn, Rybix ODT, Ryzolt, Ultram®



Once a day liquid, powder, tablet, or diskette used to treat Opioid Use Disorder

Brands include:

Methadose®, Dolophine®



A synthetic opioid similar to morphine but 50–100x more potent

Brands include:

Actiq®, Duragesic®, Sublimaze®



An illegal opioid that people are 19x more likely to try after using prescription opioids

Street names include:

Dope, Smack, H, Junk, Skag

How Opioids Work

Opioids do NOT cure the source of pain. They are strong depressants that mask your pain by binding to receptors in your brain that keep your body from feeling pain. Find out below why this chemical change in your brain can be risky after just a few days.

Reasons to Use Opioids

Prescription pain pills are highly addictive due to their strength, so they’re only recommended for acute, short-term pain, post-surgery recovery, or for cancer treatment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they’re not intended for long-term use, chronic pain, or joint and muscle pain.

Length of Use

The CDC states that most pain can be managed in 3 days or less. Using prescription opioids any longer than 7 days is rarely needed, and not effective, as it can lead to opioid use disorder.

Changes in Your Body

Opioids are depressants, which slow down your breathing and heart rate. Too much of the drug in your bloodstream can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, and drowsiness that can give way to breathing problems, falling into a coma, or dying in your sleep.

Link to Heroin Use

Chemically, opioids and heroin are almost exactly the same. Both of them attach to receptors in the brain that regulate pain. Because people can become easily addicted to how prescription opioids make them feel, they may seek out a replacement and start experimenting with hard drugs, like heroin, once they run out of pills.


In fact, those who misuse prescription opioids are 19x more likely to start using heroin.

Opioid Use Disorder

Just because doctors prescribe opioids, doesn’t mean they’re entirely safe. Opioids chemically hijack the brain’s reward system and alter it to crave more and more. Because they’re so addictive, unintentional misuse is incredibly common. Even if your life remains manageable at first, you can become dependent in less than a week.

Identify the Early Warning Signs

Opioids don’t just change your brain, they can affect other areas of your life too. At first the changes may be hard to notice, but eventually they build up and can spiral out of control. By learning what to look out for, you can find a way to stop before opioid use turns serious.


Mood and
Personality Changes

Increased irritability and anxiety (especially in between pills); cancelling plans with friends and family; ignoring calls and texts; missing work; and avoiding social interactions. .


Irregular Habits
and Routines

Putting off responsibilities; being less active; slipping work performance; not taking care of yourself; trouble falling or staying asleep; sleeping at odd hours; and feeling exhausted.



Watching the clock; counting down to your next pill; upping the dosage; constantly thinking about them; taking more often or “just in case;” and using them differently than directed.


and Withdrawal

Keeping extras on hand; taking pills from friends; needing a dose to function normally; and feeling symptoms of withdrawal (anxiety, rapid heartbeat, nausea, abdominal pain, jitteriness, and vomiting).

Other Treatments for Pain

Opioid addiction can happen in just a few days and the longer you use, the more the risk increases. Check out the list of options below that have been proven to manage pain more effectively long-term. Talk with your doctor about possible alternatives for pain management.

Safer Treatments to Try:

  • Chiropractor
  • Acupuncture
  • Physical therapy
  • Massage
  • Exercise
  • Yoga
  • Stretching
  • Over-the-counter pain meds


If your pain remains high or continues longer than expected, reach out to your doctor. They can evaluate you to make sure you are healing properly or recommend a treatment that best fits your lifestyle.

other treatments