Opioid painkillers are medications prescribed by a doctor to treat moderate-to-severe pain following surgery, trauma, or pain-inducing health conditions such as cancer. Common side effects of opioids painkillers are tolerance and physical dependence, which can lead to overdose, addiction, and drug abuse.1

Opioids can be safe and effective when properly prescribed by a medical professional for treating short-term, severe pain. But increasingly, opioid painkillers are being prescribed for long-term, chronic pain.2 even though tolerance and physical dependence are known to be common side effects. It is increasingly common to be prescribed an opioid painkiller for minor surgeries such as wisdom teeth removal, and for chronic conditions such as back pain and osteoarthritis.

Types of Opioids and Their Common Brand Names:

Generic Name Brand Name
Fentanyl Duragesic
Hydrocodone Vicodin
Meperidine Demerol
Oxycodone OxyContin, Percocet

Rates of Addiction

Two of the most important side effects of opioid painkillers are tolerance and physical dependence. Every time you take prescription opioids, you risk increasing your tolerance level, making you feel like you need more medication in order to feel the same amount of relief. You also risk developing a physical dependence on the drug, causing painful symptoms of withdrawal when the drug runs out.3 These side effects can lead to opioid addiction, which can lead to death.

Addiction to painkillers affects people of all genders, races, and adults of all ages. In 2015, more than 33,000 people in the United States died as a result of opioid painkiller overdose, more than any year on record.4

Opioids and Heroin

Suffering from the disease of opioid addiction can lead to heroin use. Heroin is a synthetic and highly-addictive opioid that is cheaper and easier to get than prescription opioid painkillers.5 According to the Centers for Disease Control, most heroin addictions begin with painkiller prescription abuse.6

Learn More About Opioid Painkillers and Heroin

To learn more about opioid painkillers, addiction, and heroin use, please visit The Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute on Drug Abuse