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Opioid Pain Relievers

two teens Opioid pain relievers (also called opioids or opioid analgesics) are medications that reduce pain. They can cause drowsiness, constipation, dry mouth and nausea. If people take more than prescribed or use in ways other than prescribed, opioids can slow their breathing and even lead to death.

Common examples of opioids include the drugs OxyContin®,Vicodin®,codeine, morphine, methadone, and fentanyl. On the street, people may call them names like cody, schoolboy, doors & fours, loads, pancakes & syrup, oxycotton, and oxycet.

How Are Opioid Pain Relievers Misused?
Any non-medical use of opioids is misuse. Examples include the following:
  • Using someone else’s prescription
  • Taking more or differently than prescribed
  • Taking for a purpose other than prescribed
Opioids can be swallowed, smoked, sniffed, or injected.
What Are the Risks Associated with Opioid Pain Reliever Use?
People often think that opioid pain relievers are safer than illicit drugs, but that’s only true when they are taken exactly as prescribed and for the purpose intended. In addition to helping pain, opioids can make people feel “high.” This feeling can make it harder to control use.

Opioids can cause a fatal overdose. An overdose is more common when users combine opioids with alcohol or benzodiazepines, such as Xanax®, Ativan or Valium®. Some of these preparations are so potent that a single dose can kill a new user.

Opioids can slow reaction time, which can increase the risk of accidents. They can also cause drowsiness, constipation, and trouble breathing.

People who use opioid pain relievers regularly may have withdrawal symptoms when they stop. Symptoms include anxiety, muscle and bone pain, diarrhea, vomiting or restless sleep.
Opioid Pain Reliever Use in NYC
  • In 2010, opioid pain relievers were involved in 171 unintentional overdose deaths in NYC.
  • The number of opioid pain reliever-involved deaths has increased by 20%
    since 2005.
  • From 2002-2003 to 2008-2009, self-reported, non-medical prescription opioid use increased by 40%.
  • Among New Yorkers, the age group most likely to misuse opioid pain relievers is those aged 18-35.
  • From 2004 to 2009, the rate of opioid pain reliever-involved Emergency Department visits doubled.

► See Related NYC Health Department Publications

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Last Updated: May 30, 2013