What are opioids?

“Opioids” is a term for drugs that bind to opioid receptors in the body. They include everything from heroin and fentanyl to prescription pills like oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine and morphine. It’s a huge bucket, since it covers illegal substances as well as drugs prescribed by doctors. Which, actually, is part of the issue: regular use of opioid drugs, even as prescribed by a doctor or medical professional, can lead to dependence.

Addiction isn’t limited to the people using just the illegal opioids, like heroin. Misuse of prescription opioids is a huge part of the epidemic. Misuse includes people with a prescription not taking it as prescribed--taking too many pills at once, for example--or people without a prescription taking pills they get from a family medicine cabinet, friends, random strangers at a party or drug dealers selling pills illegally.

Taking opioids at too high of a dose, or for too long a period of time, increases the risk of addiction, overdose, and death. The likelihood of using opioid painkillers long-term spikes after just five days of use. Five. And because of this, a lot of people are dying. In 2016, more than 42,249 people died of opioid overdoses in America--more than 115 people every day. And that’s 115 too many.