DRUG EXAMPLE 5

What are opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs that include legally prescribed painkillers like OxyCoton (oxycodone), Vicodin (hydrocodone), morphine, and fentanyl, as well as illicit drugs like heroin. Most opioids can be consumed through pill form or powder form, though some medical procedures require patches or film strips for administering the drugs. The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIH) notes that heroin, an illegal opioid often sold in powder form, “can be injected, inhaled by snorting or sniffing, or smoked.”

Legal opioid painkillers are typically prescribed to patients with chronic pain as they reduce the intensity of pain signals in the brain, thus reducing the effect of what’s causing the chronic pain, according to the NIH. But, the drugs can also produce an euphoric effect for users, which is one of the reasons they can be so addictive.

The NIH estimates that nearly 2 million Americans are addicted to opioids and many law enforcement officials believe this is the reason for a spike in heroin use in the last few years: heroin is a cheaper alternative to prescription painkillers. Addiction is defined as a chronic disease of the brain by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. While addiction comes from several, complex factors including an individual’s environmental and genetic predisposition, most medical professionals agree that opioids are more likely to become addictive because they impact the brain directly. Some doctors believe that addiction has nothing to do with the substance, but with the person using the drug.

For more information on opioids, visit the NIH website.

-Esteban L. Hernandez, New Haven Register