Opioids, also known as opiates, are a class of drugs that include illegal and legal drugs derived from the poppy plant. There are three classifications of opiates: those that are naturally occurring, those that are partially synthetic, and those that are synthetic.
Some of the most commonly misused and abused opiates include:
- Oxycodone (including OxyContin and Percocet)
- Hydrocodone (including Vicodin)
Opioid pain relievers can be used safely, but when they are abused they produce a euphoric feeling. Any long-term use poses the risk of addiction. Many people who use these drugs will develop tolerance, which can cause them to use higher doses to achieve the same feeling. These individuals often develop a physical dependence, which means not using the drug or using lower doses can quickly cause physical symptoms.
Most prescription drugs have the potential to become dangerous if misused. They should only be taken with a prescription from a doctor and even then, only under extreme caution. Even when taken with the best intentions, many prescription medications can become addictive. This is especially true for painkillers, as some can lead to physical dependence in as little as one week’s time. The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse estimated that 2 million Americans misused painkillers in 2017 for the first time¹.
It is possible to become addicted to prescription medications when taking them exactly as prescribed by a doctor. Some people take prescription drugs without a prescription, either in an attempt to self-medicate or with the intention of getting high. The majority of abused medications that are seen at prescription drug rehabs fall into one of three categories:
- Opioids/ Pain killers– prescribed to relieve extreme chronic pain from surgery or a serious injury. They are the most commonly abused prescription medications. Morphine, OxyContin, Roxicet, Percocet, Codeine, and Vicodin are common examples.
- CNS Depressants– prescription medications that may be used to treat anxiety, sleep disorders, or muscle spasms. Valium, Xanax, and Librium are common examples of depressants. Depressants slow the heart and are especially dangerous when taken in combination with alcohol because it is another depressant. The combined effects of the two can lead to cardiac arrest.
- Stimulants– medications that are often prescribed to treat ADHD or narcolepsy. Popular examples include Adderall and Ritalin. They are often called uppers because of their stimulating effects. Because they affect blood pressure and heart rate, prescription stimulants can lead to heart attacks when abused.