Understanding Prescription Opioids

Opioids are natural or synthetic chemicals that relieve pain. Common types include:

  • Hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin)
  • Morphine
  • Methadone

Prescription opioids can be used to treat moderate-to-severe pain and are often prescribed following surgery or injury, or for health conditions such as cancer.

Opioids and Chronic Pain

Many Americans suffer from chronic pain, which is a major public health concern in the United States. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the acceptance and use of prescription opioids for the treatment of chronic, non-cancer pain, such as back pain or osteoarthritis, despite serious risks and the lack of evidence about their long-term effectiveness. The number of opioids prescribed and sold in the U.S. has quadrupled since 1999, but the overall incidence of pain reported hasn’t changed.

Risks and Side Effects

In addition to serious risks of addiction, abuse, and overdose, the use of prescription opioids can have many side effects, even when taken as directed:

  • Tolerance, meaning you might need to take more of the medication for the same pain relief
  • Physical dependence, meaning you have symptoms of withdrawal when the medication is stopped
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Constipation
  • Nausea, vomiting, and dry mouth
  • Sleepiness and dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Low levels of testosterone that can result in lower sex drive, energy, and strength
  • Itching and sweating

Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about the risks and benefits of opioids before beginning opioid therapy. Learn more about opioids and how to protect yourself and your loved ones from abuse, addiction, and overdose by visiting CDC.gov/drugoverdose.

Source: CDC.gov