Know the facts about prescription opioids

Even though prescription opioids are provided by a doctor, it’s important to understand the strength of each type of drug. Using them any other way than prescribed can be dangerous. Scroll down for quick explanations to some of the most common questions.

pills cupped in hands

What should I know about prescription opioids?

Click below to learn more about each topic.

Types of Opioids

The term “opioids” can be a bit confusing because it refers to an entire class of prescription and non-prescription drugs. There are many different types, forms and brands—some you may even be familiar with but never realized contained opioids. Below is a breakdown of the names used most often.

pill bottle


Most commonly prescribed opioid in the U.S.

Brands include:

Vicodin®, Lorcet®, Vicoprofen



Usually in tablet or pill form

Brands include:

OxyContin®, Percocet®, Oxecta®, Roxicodone®



Primarily prescribed as a cough syrup or tablets

It’s often mixed with pain reducers like Tylenol® as a prescription®



Can come in tablets, liquid, or hospital injection

Brands include:

MS Contin®, Oramorph SR, MSIR, Roxanol, Kadian, RMS



Can come in immediate or slow-release pills or tablets

Brands include:

ConZip, FusePaq Synapryn, Rybix ODT, Ryzolt, Ultram®



Once a day liquid, powder, tablet, or diskette used to treat Opioid Use Disorder

Brands include:

Methadose®, Dolophine®



A synthetic opioid similar to morphine but 50–100x more potent

Brands include:

Actiq®, Duragesic®, Sublimaze®



An illegal opioid that people are 19x more likely to try after using prescription opioids

Street names include:

Dope, Smack, H, Junk, Skag

How Opioids Work

Opioids do NOT cure the source of pain. They are strong depressants that mask your pain by binding to receptors in your brain that keep your body from feeling pain. Find out below why this chemical change in your brain can be risky after just a few days.

Reasons to Use Opioids

Prescription pain pills are highly addictive due to their strength, so they’re only recommended for acute, short-term pain, post-surgery recovery, or for cancer treatment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they’re not intended for long-term use, chronic pain, or joint and muscle pain.

Length of Use

The CDC states that most pain can be managed in 3 days or less. Using prescription opioids any longer than 7 days is rarely needed, and not effective, as it can lead to addiction.

Changes in Your Body

Opioids are depressants, which slow down your breathing and heart rate. Too much of the drug in your bloodstream can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, and drowsiness that can give way to breathing problems, falling into a coma, or dying in your sleep.

Link to Heroin Use

Chemically, opioids and heroin are almost exactly the same. Both of them attach to receptors in the brain that regulate pain. Because people can become easily addicted to how prescription opioids make them feel, they may seek out a replacement and start experimenting with hard drugs, like heroin, once they run out of pills.


In fact, those who use prescription opioids are 19x more likely to start using heroin.

Risks of Addiction or Overdose

Just because they’re prescribed, doesn’t mean they’re entirely safe. Even occasional or unintentional misuse of opioids can lead to serious consequences. Tolerance, mixing with other depressants, or not taking exactly as directed can further increase your risk. Scroll down below to see what you should watch out for while you or someone you know is using opioids.

Opioid Addiction

Signs of addiction can happen in days

Addiction can sneak up on you quickly and can happen to anyone. As time progresses, dependence on the drug can take over your world—making it harder to do routine activities like hold down a job or function without opioids. The cost of affording opioids long-term and the constant fear of overdosing can also build up and make life miserable.

Withdrawal symptoms are common

It doesn’t take long for your body to get hooked or for your body to go through withdrawals. Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms of opioid withdrawal, including: anxiety, rapid heartbeat, nausea, abdominal pain, jitteriness, and vomiting.

TIP: Dispose of unused pills

Keeping old prescriptions “just in case” can lead to misuse, especially when stored in the medicine cabinet.

risk of addiction

Opioid Overdose

Signs of an overdose

  • Awake, but unable to talk to respond
  • Limp posture
  • Pale or clammy face
  • Blue fingernails and lips
  • Skin color changes (lighter tones turn purple and darker tones turn grayish or ashen)
  • Slow, shallow, or stopped breathing
  • Slow, erratic, or no pulse
  • Choking sounds or a snore-like gurgling noise (sometimes called the “death-rattle”)

Naloxone can reverse an overdose

Naloxone (or Narcan ®) is the only drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. When administered in time through a nasal spray or injection, it can almost instantaneously restore breathing back to normal after it’s slowed or stopped. Naloxone is available at pharmacies in Georgia without a prescription. However, you can request a prescription from your doctor to keep on hand while taking prescription opioids.

risk of addiction

Other Treatments for Pain

Opioid addiction can happen in just a few days and the longer you use, the more the risk increases. Check out the list of options below that have been proven to manage pain more effectively long-term. Talk with your doctor about possible alternatives for pain management.

Safer Treatments to Try:

  • Chiropractor
  • Acupuncture
  • Physical therapy
  • Massage
  • Exercise
  • Yoga
  • Stretching
  • Over-the-counter pain meds


If your pain remains high or continues longer than expected, reach out to your doctor. They can evaluate you to make sure you are healing properly or recommend a treatment that best fits your lifestyle.

other treatments