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Opioids

Opioids are drugs that relieve pain. There are 2 types of opioids; prescription and non-prescription.

Examples of prescription opioids include codeine, morphine, hydromorphone and fentanyl. Prescription opioids are prescribed by licensed health care providers to treat acute and chronic pain.

Heroin and illicit fentanyl are examples of non-prescription opioids. Non-prescription opioids are made in unregulated labs and can be more lethal than other street drugs.

Opioids can make you feel;

  • less pain (physical and emotional)
  • euphoria
  • drowsiness
  • relaxation
  • difficulty concentrating
  • constricted pupils
  • slower breathing
  • nausea and vomiting
  • constipation
  • loss of appetite
  • sweating

Prescription and non-prescription opioids use can result in problematic use (causes social, economic, health or relationship harms) or dependency (the body will experience withdrawal symptoms if opioids are not taken).

Anyone who uses opioids is at risk of experiencing an overdose.

When opioids are used as directed under medical supervision there is low risk of addiction and poor health outcomes. Anyone who takes opioids regularly will develop physical dependency, meaning that the person will experience withdrawal symptoms in as little as 6–12 hours after they stop taking them. Opioid withdrawal is rarely life threatening.

People having withdrawal symptoms (usually goes away within a week or so) may feel;

  • Anxiety or uneasiness
  • Severe body aches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Drug cravings

Some of these symptoms may take longer to go away such as drug cravings.

Overdose Signs and Symptoms PosterOpioids are depressants which cause the body’s central nervous system to slow down. Below are signs & symptoms that someone may be having an overdose related to opioids.

  • Breathing will be slow or gone
  • Person is not moving
  • You can hear gurgling sounds or snoring
  • Skin feels cold and clammy
  • Lips and nails are blue
  • Person may be choking
  • Can’t be woken up
  • Pupils are tiny

Anyone who is taking opioids is at risk of having an overdose. There is no formula to tell us who is going to have an overdose and who is not.

There are several ways to decrease your risk of having an overdose:

  1. Use Prescription Opioids as Directed
    • Only take them when they are prescribed.
    • Take back unused opioids to your pharmacy.
  2. Only Use One Substance at a Time
    • Mixing opioids with alcohol and/or anti-anxiety medication like Ativan or Xanax increase your risk of overdosing.
  3. Understand Tolerance
    • Your body will continue to need more and more opioids in order to get the same desired effect (this is tolerance).
    • Your built up tolerance can start to drop after only 2–3 days of not using an opioid.
    • If you haven’t used in a few days, decrease your dose, and slowly increase.
  4. Start Low and Go Slow
    • If you are not taking an opioid that came from a pharmacy you cannot be sure what is in it.
    • Many other street drugs like heroin and cocaine are cross contaminated with non-prescription opioids like fentanyl.
  5. Don’t Use Alone
    • If you use along nobody will be there to help you if you run into trouble.
    • Try to use where other people you trust are around.
    • Have someone you trust check on you.
  6. Carry Naloxone

Opioid use, like all substance use, happens along a spectrum from not using to dependency. Below are some of the local resources.

  1. Smart Works Program
    • Needle Syringe and Safer Inhalation Program; offering single use drug equipment to reduce the spread of infections such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV.
  2. Revive (Naloxone)
    • Free nasal spray naloxone kits to people who use substance and their family members and friends.
  3. Substance Use Treatment
    • Local and Regional Treatment
  4. Community Harm Reduction Steering Committee
    • A locally driven initiative of community partners working together to move harm reduction strategies forward across Leeds, Grenville and Lanark.