Combating the opioid epidemic

About opioids

Opioids are a class of drugs that relieve pain. Misusing them can cause addiction, overdose, and sometimes death.

What are opioids?

Opioids include drugs derived from the opium poppy as well as synthetic drugs that are made in a laboratory. When appropriately prescribed by a doctor, opioids help relieve pain.

Opioids include:

  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, or Roxicodone)
  • Oxymorphone (Opana)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, Norco)
  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Buprenorphine (Suboxone)
  • Methadone
  • Fentanyl (Duragesic)
  • Heroin

Opioids are addictive

Opioids act on receptors in the brain and block the feeling of pain. These drugs can also lead to a euphoric feeling (a “high”), which may reinforce the person’s desire to use them again. Over time the brain gets used to the presence of opioids. When this happens it takes a larger amount of opioids to get high again. The repeated use of opioids eventually creates physical dependence, at which point the absence of the drugs leads to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

In recent years, health care providers have prescribed too many prescription opioids to too many people. Between 1999 and 2010, sales of prescription opioids nearly quadrupled in the United States. In 2012 alone, 259 million prescriptions were written, enough for every adult to have a bottle. Find where to dispose of unused or leftover pills.

To learn more about the opioid epidemic in Philadelphia, watch this opioid overview training video.


Prescription opioid use can lead to heroin use

Prescription painkillers are chemically similar to heroin, an illegal opioid drug made from the opium poppy. Nationally, four out of five individuals who use heroin first used prescription opioids. While Philadelphia’s heroin is among the purest in the country, other drugs, including fentanyl, are often mixed into it. This can put people who inject heroin at a higher risk of a drug overdose.

To learn more about the heroin epidemic in Philadelphia, watch Generation Addicted.


Fentanyl is causing more deaths

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid painkiller that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. Fentanyl can be added to other drugs and cause an overdose. Very small amounts of fentanyl can kill someone, even if he or she regularly uses heroin or other opioid painkillers. In 2017, fentanyl was found in 846 drug overdose deaths, a 95 percent increase from 2016.


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