What are Opioids?

What are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs used to reduce pain.

Prescription opioids can be used to treat moderate-to-severe pain and are often prescribed following surgery, injury, or for health conditions such as cancer pain. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the acceptance and use of prescription opioids for the treatment of chronic, non-cancer pain, such as back pain or osteoarthritis, despite serious risks and the lack of evidence about their long-term effectiveness. (Ref: CDC)

Providers wrote nearly a quarter of a billion opioid prescriptions in 2013 – with wide variation across states. This is enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of pills.

Studies suggest that regional variation in use of prescription opioids cannot be explained by the underlying health status of the population.

The most common drugs involved in prescription opioid overdose deaths include:

  • Methadone
  • Oxycodone (such as OxyContin®)
  • Hydrocodone (such as Vicodin®)

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever. It is many times more powerful than other opioids and is approved for treating severe pain, typically advanced cancer pain.  Illegally made and distributed fentanyl has been on the rise in several states. (Ref: CDC).  The rate of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, which includes fentanyl, doubled from 2015 to 2016. Roughly 19,400 people died from overdoses involving synthetic opioids other than methadone in 2016. (Ref: CDC)

Heroin is an illegal opioid. Heroin use has increased across the U.S. among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels.  Some of the greatest increases occurred in demographic groups with historically low rates of heroin use: women, the privately insured, and people with higher incomes.  From 2010 – 2016, heroin-related deaths increased by more than five times. (Ref: CDC)

Not only are people using heroin, they are also abusing multiple other substances, especially cocaine and prescription opioid pain relievers. Nearly all people who use heroin also use at least one other drug.