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Overcome Opioids - Chicago Department of Public Health - Understand Opioids

Prescription Opioids:

Medical providers may prescribe opioids to relieve moderate to severe pain. Opioid pain relievers are usually safe when taken for short periods of time and as prescribed by a medical professional (doctor, dentist, etc).  Even when taken as prescribed, opioids have risk for side effects.  Common side effects include: sleepiness, dizziness, confusion, itching, and constipation.  With continued use, hormone levels are often affected and men may experience low levels of testosterone that can affect sex drive and the ability to have sex.  Women may experience irregular menstrual cycles.  Additionally, people who take opioids regularly are likely to develop tolerance (higher doses of the medication are needed to provide the same level of pain relief) and withdrawal symptoms (flu-like symptoms when someone stops or misses a dose of the medication).  

Overcome Opioids - Chicago Department of Public Health - Understand Opioids


What are opioids?

Opioids (oh-pee-oyds) are a class of drugs that include illegal drugs like heroin, as well as prescription pain medications including oxycodone (Oxycontin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, morphine, and many others. Fentanyl is an opioid pain medication that can be prescribed by a medical provider, but is also illegally produced and sold on the street. Opioids are drugs that act on nerve cells in the brain and body and can relieve pain, but when taken in larger amounts can also create euphoria (or a “high”) and can put someone at risk for overdose and death.

 
Overcome Opioids - Chicago Department of Public Health - Understand Opioids

Opioid pain medications can be misused.

When taken at higher doses than prescribed, more frequently than prescribed, or if taking someone else’s medication, they can produce euphoria (positive sensations) in addition to pain relief.  Additionally, when opioids are taken in large amounts, they can cause someone to stop breathing and even die.  When opioids are mixed with other “downers” like alcohol or benzodiazepines (medicines that are sometimes used for anxiety treatment; for example Xanax, Klonipin, Valium), risk for overdose and death goes up even more.


What is an opioid overdose?

High doses of opioids (prescription opioids or illicit opioids like heroin) cause the breathing centers of the brain to shut down, often resulting in death.

At-Risk Populations for Overdose:

Overcome Opioids - Chicago Department of Public Health - Understand Opioids
Overcome Opioids - Chicago Department of Public Health - Understand Opioids

People with lung, kidney, or liver problems

Overcome Opioids - Chicago Department of Public Health - Understand Opioids

People 65 years or older

Overcome Opioids - Chicago Department of Public Health - Understand Opioids

Pregnant women

Overcome Opioids - Chicago Department of Public Health - Understand Opioids

People who have had a previous overdose

Overcome Opioids - Chicago Department of Public Health - Understand Opioids

People who are also taking benzodiazepines, certain sleep medications, muscle relaxants, and/or alcohol (all of these also slow down breathing)

Overcome Opioids - Chicago Department of Public Health - Understand Opioids

People who have had a period of not using opioids (for example after incarceration or detox) and go back to taking the same dose of opioids they used prior

 

Overcome Opioids - Chicago Department of Public Health - Understand Opioids

Symptoms of Opioid Use Disorder

Opioid use disorder is the medical term for opioid addiction.  Scientists do not fully understand why some people who are exposed to opioids go on to develop opioid use disorder while others do not.

It is understood that all types of substance use disorders have a genetic component and people with personal or family histories of substance use disorders seem to be at higher risk.  It is also known that people who have experienced trauma have higher rates of substance use disorders.  


Opioid use disorder may be diagnosed when someone has
two or more of the following symptoms:

Overcome Opioids - Chicago Department of Public Health - Understand Opioids

Opioids are taken in larger amounts or for a longer period of time than was intended

Overcome Opioids - Chicago Department of Public Health - Understand Opioids

Desire or unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control opioid use

Overcome Opioids - Chicago Department of Public Health - Understand Opioids

A lot of time is spent trying to get opioids, use opioids, or recover from the effects of opioids

Overcome Opioids - Chicago Department of Public Health - Understand Opioids

Cravings or strong urges to use opioids

Overcome Opioids - Chicago Department of Public Health - Understand Opioids

Continued use of opioids that cause failure to fulfill duties at work, school or home

Overcome Opioids - Chicago Department of Public Health - Understand Opioids

Continued use despite having social or relationship problems that were caused or worsened by opioids and their effects

Overcome Opioids - Chicago Department of Public Health - Understand Opioids

Continued use despite having physical or emotional problems that are likely to be caused or worsened by opioids

Overcome Opioids - Chicago Department of Public Health - Understand Opioids

Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of opioid use.

Overcome Opioids - Chicago Department of Public Health - Understand Opioids

Recurrent opioid use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.

Overcome Opioids - Chicago Department of Public Health - Understand Opioids

Tolerance* (needing more of the drug to get the same effect or the same dose of the drug not causing the same level of response)

Overcome Opioids - Chicago Department of Public Health - Understand Opioids

Withdrawal* (feeling sick when dose is missed or continuing to use to avoid feeling sick)

*If tolerance and withdrawal are the only two symptoms and the individual is taking opioids as prescribed by a medical professional, the individual does not have opioid use disorder, as these are normal responses of the body to regular opioid use.  If the individual has these symptoms plus additional symptoms, he/she may have an opioid use disorder.

Opioid use disorder is a chronic condition.  Like many chronic conditions, people often need life-long support to be able to effectively manage the condition.

 
 

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