Nobody wakes up one morning and decides to get addicted to opioids. In many cases, people are given legitimate opioid prescriptions for pain relief. By the time they run out of the medication they may have become dependent upon the drug. Since 2007, overdoses from heroin have increased and prescription opioid use is a risk factor for heroin use. Some regions of the country have limited the availability and prescribing of opioid pain relievers. If a person becomes dependent upon a prescription opioid and cannot get a refill or new prescription then that person may turn to heroin to obtain the same effects of a prescription opioid. Prescription opioids and heroin suppress neurological signals in the body. Too much of the drug (prescription or illegal) can cause the shutdown of vital organs (heart and lungs) which can lead to overdose or death.
Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin as well as synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers that are available legally by prescription. Prescription opioids include such drugs as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others.
Prescribed legally and taken for medical purposes, prescription opioids can treat acute pain and are safe when taken for a short time. In addition to pain relief, opioids can also produce a euphoric high which can lead to misuse, dependence, addiction, overdose and death.