Opioids are a class of drugs that include legally prescribed pain relievers – oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine – and illicit narcotics (heroin).
Opioid pain relievers are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor. Because they can produce euphoria in addition to pain relief, they can be misused or abused (taken in a different way or in a larger quantity than prescribed or taken without a doctor’s prescription). Regular use –even as prescribed by a doctor –can lead to physical dependence. When misused, opioids can lead to addiction, overdose and death.
Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Most drug overdoses involve opioids. Our community has seen a dramatic increase in opioid-related deaths since 2015. In 2017, Ohio had the second highest rate of drug overdose deaths involving opioids in the U.S. Anyone who uses opioids can overdose, but certain factors increase risk, including but not limited to:
Combining opioids with alcohol or certain other drugs
Taking high daily dosages of prescription opioids
Taking more opioids than prescribed
Taking illicit or illegal opioids, like heroin or illicitly-manufactured fentanyl, that could contain unknown or harmful substances
Having certain medical conditions, such as sleep apnea or reduced kidney or liver function
Being older than 65
Death from an opioid overdose happens when too much of the drug overwhelms the brain and interrupts the body’s natural drive to breathe. The medication naloxone can be lifesaving in these situations since it reverses the effects of opiates.
Not all overdoses have to end in death. Everyone has a role to play. You can:
Learn about the risks of opioids.
Learn about naloxone, its availability and how to use it.
Help people struggling with opioid use disorder find the right care and treatment.