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. 36 people die every day from an overdose death involving heroin in the United States2.

75 percent of the nearly 92,000 drug overdose deaths in 2020 involved an opioid

The number of drug overdose deaths remain high, and the majority of these deaths, nearly 75% in 2020, involved opioids3.

OVER 82 percent of all opioid overdose deaths in 2020 involved synthetic opioids (excluding methadone)

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


  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. Hedegaard H, Miniño AM, Spencer MR, Warner M. Drug Overdose Deaths in the United States, 1999–2020. National Center for Health Statistics [PDF], December 2021.
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