Opioid Basics

Opioids are a class of drugs used to reduce pain.

Prescription opioids can be prescribed by doctors to treat moderate to severe pain but can also have serious risks and side effects.

Common types are oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine, and methadone.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever. It is many times more powerful than other opioids and is approved for treating severe pain, typically advanced cancer pain1. Illegally made and distributed fentanyl has been on the rise in several states.

Heroin is an illegal opioid. Nearly 40 people die every day from an overdose death involving heroin in the United States2.

Over 70 percent of the drug overdose deaths in 2019 involved an opioid

The number of drug overdose deaths remain high, and the majority of these deaths, over 70% in 2019, involved opioids3.

Nearly 73% of all opioid overdose deaths involve synthetic opioids (excluding methadone)

Find definitions for acute pain, chronic pain, addiction, tolerance, and other commonly used terms in the opioid overdose epidemic.

References

  1. Algren D, Monteilh C, Rubin C, et al. Fentanyl-associated fatalities among illicit drug users in Wayne County, Michigan (July 2005-May 2006). Journal Of Medical Toxicology: Official Journal of the American College Of Medical Toxicology [serial online]. March 2013; 9(1):106-115.
  2. Wide-ranging online data for epidemiologic research (WONDER). Atlanta, GA: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics; 2020. Available at http://wonder.cdc.gov.
  3. Mattson CL, Tanz LJ, Quinn K, Kariisa M, Patel P, Davis NL. Trends and Geographic Patterns in Drug and Synthetic Opioid Overdose Deaths — United States, 2013–2019. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2021;70:202–207. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7006a4external icon.
Access the latest data. Learn what can be done about overdoseand related harms. CDC VitalSigns