Opioids (Prescription Pain Relievers)

Know the facts and connect with support to help you address known or suspected medicine abuse with your child.

Opioids, commonly known as painkillers, are pain-relieving drugs either naturally derived from poppy flowers or lab-made, semi-synthetic substitutes. They work by attaching to particular sites in the brain called opioid receptors, which carry messages to the brain. The message the brain receives is changed, so that pain is no longer perceived as painful. Medications are often formulated in combination with other substances, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.[1]

Opioids medication can be administered in a variety of ways, but is most widely available as pills, tablets or capsules. Certain opioid medications, like buprenorphine and methadone, are effective treatments for opioid use disorder.

Commonly known medications include Oxycontin, Percocet, Dilaudid, Demoral and Opana. See the table below for a more complete list of prescription opioids.

Understand the risks

Prescription opioids are powerful drugs with a high risk for dependency. Taking them in high doses, and/or in combination with other substances — particularly alcohol — can result in life-threatening respiratory distress and death.

Prescription pain relievers can cause drowsiness, constipation and slowed breathing. Taking a large single dose can cause severe respiratory depression (slowed breathing) that can lead to death. Use of painkillers with other substances that depress the central nervous system, such as alcohol, antihistamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, or general anesthetics, increases the risk of life-threatening respiratory depression.

Recent research suggests that, as a whole, opioids are not significantly better than non-opioid pain relievers in relieving acute and chronic pain.[2] This means that alternative options should first be explored with healthcare providers. If those first-line options are not effective, taken exactly as prescribed, opioid pain relievers can manage pain effectively.

Chronic use or misuse of opioids can result in physical dependence and addiction. Dependence means that the body adapts to the presence of the drug, and withdrawal symptoms occur if use is reduced or stopped. Tolerance to the drugs’ effects also occurs with long-term use, so a person misusing prescription opioids must take higher doses to achieve the same or similar effects as experienced initially. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use.

The recent epidemic of prescription opioid misuse and abuse has led to increased use of heroin.

Prevent misuse

In the case your child or anyone else in your household has been prescribed an opioid pain reliever, take steps to prevent misuse.

How to help a loved one with opioids

If you suspect your child or a loved one is struggling with opioid use or addiction explore our resources below.

Table of commonly prescribed opioids

Generic Drug Composition Brand Name
Hydrocodone/Ibuprofen Vicoprofen, Ibudone, Reprexain
Ibuprofen/Oxycodone Combunox
Chlorpheniramine/Hydrocodone TussiCaps
Acetaminophen/Oxycodone Xolox, Tylox, Magnacet, Endocet, Primlev, Roxicet, Percocet
Aspirin/Oxycodone Endodan
Atropine/Difenoxin Motofen
Tramadol Ryzolt, ConZip, Ultram
Hydromorphone Dilaudid, Palladone, Exalgo
Hydromorphone Dilaudid, Palladone, Exalgo
Pentazocine Talwin
Meperidine Demerol
Buprenorphine Buprenex, Butrans
Tepentadol Nucynta
Oxymorphone Opana
Remifentanil Ultiva
Acetaminophen/Hydrocodone Norco, Lortab, Hycet, Zolvit, Zydone, Lorcet, Maxidone, Co-gesic, Liquicet, Xodol, Vicodin, Stagesic, Zamicet
Morphine/Naltrexone Embeda
Fentanyl Sublimaze, Abstral, Subsys, Duragesic, Ionsys
Morphine Infumorph, Astramorph, Duramorph, DepoDur
Sufentanil Sufenta
Alfentanil Alfenta
Hydrocodone/Pseudophedrine Rezira
Oxycodone Roxicodone, Oxycontin, Oxecta