Opioid Medication

Opioid or narcotics — are pain relievers made from opium, which comes from the poppy plant. Morphine and codeine are the two natural products of opium. Synthetic modifications or imitations of morphine produce the other opioids:

  • Heroin (Street drug)
  • Dilaudid (Hydromorphone)
  • Percocet, Percodan, Oxycontin (Oxycodone)
  • Vicodin, Lorcet, Lortab (Hydrocodone)
  • Demerol (Pethidine)
  • Methadone
  • Duragesic (Fentanyl)


When people use narcotics only to control pain, they are unlikely to become addicted to drugs. However, opioids provide an intoxicating high when injected or taken orally in high doses. Opioids are also powerful anxiety relievers. For these reasons, narcotic abuse is one of the most common forms of drug abuse in the U.S.

Opioid abuse can be defined as the use of opiate-based medicine beyond a doctor’s prescription to achieve a high or desired effect, such as relieving anxiety.

Opioid dependence occurs when the body develops a tolerance to the drug, meaning higher doses are needed for the same effect. Also, stopping the drug produces drug withdrawal symptoms. Opioid addiction occurs when an individual is dependent on opioid use. At the same time, it displays psychological effects, such as compulsive behaviors to get the drug, craving for the drug, and continued use despite negative consequences, like legal problems or losing a job.

Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Abuse

  • Analgesia (feeling no pain)
  • Sedation
  • Euphoria (feeling high)
  • Respiratory depression (shallow or slow breathing)
  • Small pupils
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Itching or flushed skin
  • Constipation
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion or poor judgment

Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawal

If a person uses opioids for a long time, they develop physical dependence and tolerance. Usually, opioid abusers will then take more of the drug to continue to get high. If a person stops using opioids after becoming physically dependent on the drug, they will experience drug withdrawal symptoms.

Symptoms of drug withdrawal from opioids include:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Craving for the drug
  • Rapid breathing
  • Yawning
  • Runny nose
  • Salivation
  • Gooseflesh
  • Nasal stuffiness
  • Muscle aches
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Confusion
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Tremors
  • Loss of appetite

The symptoms of opioid withdrawal aren’t medically dangerous. But they can be agonizing and intolerable, contributing to continued drug abuse. In general, how severe opioid withdrawal symptoms are and how long they last depend on how long they have been abusing opioids and how much they have been taking.

Medicines like methadone or buprenorphine can be used to prevent withdrawal symptoms after a person stops using a process called detoxification (“detox”). After drug withdrawal is complete, the person is no longer physically dependent on the drug. But psychological dependence can continue. Some people with drug addiction may relapse in response to stress or other powerful triggers.