Opioids are a class of medication that includes the illegal drug heroin, and legal synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, as well as pain relievers such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine, and others. These drugs are legally accessible through a prescription from a health care provider.
Opioid-based medications, when used correctly under a health care provider's direction, are highly effective pain relievers. However, you should be very careful when using opioids, even under your doctor’s supervision, as misusing prescription opioids can lead to dangerous risks of dependence and addiction.
Prescription drug addiction occurs when someone either continues to self-medicate with a prescription drug beyond the prescribed use of the medicine, or when someone not prescribed the drug, obtains and uses it recreationally.
The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, but can lead to changes in the brain that create addiction and challenge an addicted person’s self-control by interfering with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs.
When someone becomes dependent on opioids, treatment often includes medication assisted treatment, which is a combined psychotherapy and medication treatment that is backed by research validating its use.
Recovery from opioid dependence is a long-term process, and relapses can be expected for some people along the way.
Most people are first introduced to opioids through a medical professional providing treatment for pain relief. Commonly, patients seeking care after back surgery, dental work, an emergency room visit for extreme pain associated with a broken bone, or minor car accident are prescribed opioids.