What Are Prescription Opioids?

Opioid abuse is a serious public health issue in the United States. Read on to learn how opioid abuse starts, how to know if you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, and what you can do to treat an opioid addiction. Find treatment options that are right for you and start on the path to recovery.
Did you know most health insurance plans cover opioid addiction treatment?

What Are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs that include prescription opioid painkillers and heroin. Prescription opioids include:1

Fentanyl is another prescription opioid medicine that is extremely potent (80-100 times stronger than morphine) and has been at the center of the opioid overdose crisis. This synthetic opioid is prescribed legally for significant pain, such as that related to cancer, but is also now produced and sold illicitly and commonly added to heroin to increase its potency.2,3

Oxycodone prescriptions

What Are Prescription Opioids Used For?

Opioid medications are widely used to manage pain and a few of them are indicated for use as antitussive agents, or cough suppressants.2,4 These drugs can be incredibly effective for these purposes; however, they also have a high potential for abuse and dependence.

Health Risks

Opioid Side Effects

Side effects of opioids include:5,6

  • Drowsiness.
  • Confusion.
  • Euphoria.
  • Itching.
  • Sweating.
  • Nausea.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Constipation.
  • Slowed breathing.
  • Tolerance (needing to take more to experience the effects).
  • Dependence (brain adapts to the drug such that an individual feels and functions sub-optimally without it; withdrawal symptoms are likely to arise when use slows or stops).


Prescription opioid overdose is possible and unfortunately very common. The number of opioid-involved overdose deaths reached nearly 47,000 in 2018, and almost 1/3 of those involved prescription opioid painkillers.7

Signs of Opioid Overdose

Signs and symptoms of an opioid overdose include:8

  • Tiny, constricted pupils.
  • Extreme sleepiness.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Weak/limp body.
  • Significantly slow or shallow breathing.
  • Cole, pale, or blue skin.
  • Choking or gurgling sounds.
Signs of Abuse

What Is Opioid Abuse?

Abusing a prescription opioid medication can take several forms:5

  • Taking more than the dose you were prescribed.
  • Taking your medication more often than the prescription indicates.
  • Taking someone else’s medication.
  • Taking it in a way other than your prescription mandates, for example crushing and snorting your pills. 

Warning signs someone may be abusing an opioid medication include:9

  • Calling the doctor for early refills of medication.
  • Frequently requesting more or stronger opioids from the doctor.
  • Seeking opioids from sources other than your doctor (e.g., buying them on the street).
  • Dismissing other pain management options.
  • Appearing overly sedated/extremely sleepy (e.g., nodding off).

Misusing opioid prescriptions increases the risk of addiction development (opioid use disorder), as well as the likelihood of a potentially fatal overdose.10

Signs of Opioid Use Disorder

As opioid abuse progresses to addiction, the person may find themselves unable to control their compulsive use despite the harm that the drug causes them. Specific clinical criteria of an opioid addiction (opioid use disorder) include, but are not limited to, the following:11

  • Opioids are used in higher doses or more often than intended.
  • A large deal of time is spent in getting, using, or recovering from opioids.
  • Painkillers continue to be used despite relationship turmoil, problems at work or school, or health issues caused or made worse by opioid use.
  • Opioid drugs are used in situations where it is physically hazardous.



Opioid Addiction Help

Opioid addiction should not be a life sentence for anyone. People recover from opioid use disorders every day. Treatment for addiction to painkillers can save your life or the life of someone you love. Treatment for opioid use disorder may involve behavioral therapy as well as medication-assisted treatment (medications such as methadone or Suboxone used in conjunction with therapy).5 Recovery First offers both in multiple settings.

Treatment at Recovery First

At Recovery First, you can choose from a number of different programs to get the care that is right for you. We offer comprehensive treatment from detox and outpatient services, to residential and inpatient treatment options near Miami, Florida.

exterior and water feature at recovery first treatment center

Medical Detox for Opioid Withdrawal

Many people who need help for opioid addiction will start with medical detox. Opioid dependence can develop quickly (in a matter of weeks),12 and many people suffer severe withdrawal symptoms as they attempt to cut back or quit.5 This makes the recovery process very challenging for those trying to do it on their own, and the pain of withdrawal can derail even the most well-intentioned person in their efforts to get sober.5 Signs and symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:5,13

  • Strong cravings.
  • Restlessness and insomnia.
  • Involuntary leg movements.
  • Bone and muscle pain.
  • Goosebumps.
  • Nausea/vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.

At Recovery First, we help you get through this phase with 24/7 medical support through our comprehensive drug detox program in Florida. We will also work with you on a plan for post-detox care.

Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment

The intensity of care that each person requires will vary. We have different levels of care so that you can get the right kind of support on your recovery journey. Whether you want inpatient/residential rehab or some form of outpatient therapy, you can find it at Recovery First.

Co-Occurring Disorder Care

Recovery First knows that addiction often occurs alongside another mental health disorder, such as depression. We provide comprehensive co-occurring disorder treatment to increase your chances of long-term recovery. We also offer a program specifically for veterans and first responders that is designed to address issues common to this population, including PTSD and pain management.


Frequently Asked Questions

How Do Opioids Affect the Brain?

Prescription opioids activate opioid receptors in the brain and body and, in doing so, alter pain sensation. In binding to these receptors, opioid medications also initiate a large release of dopamine, a brain chemical involved in feelings of reward. This reinforces the pleasure of the drug-taking experience and makes the person want to repeat it.5

What Is Opioid Addiction?

Opioid addiction—or opioid use disorder—is a mental health condition characterized by an inability to control your use even when your use is causing significant problems to your health, relationship, or other areas of your life.14 Anyone can become addicted to prescription opioids. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 25% of people who are receiving long-term opioid therapy in a primary care setting struggle with an opioid use disorder.6

How Do You Get Off Opioids?

For someone dependent on but not addicted to opioids, a doctor may simply prescribe a tapering regimen to ease them off the medication.15 For someone with an opioid addiction, professional treatment that includes medical detox/withdrawal management may be necessary.16 Addiction treatment should not end with detox, as the underlying reasons that led to the misuse of opioids will be left untreated.17 Therapy can help you to deal with these issues and learn new ways of coping.17 If you have lingering pain issues, you may need to develop a new treatment plan that doesn’t involve opioid medications.16

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