what are opioids?
Opioids are a type of drug that can be legal prescription drugs or illegal street drugs.
Prescription opioids include fentanyl, hydrocodone (Vicodin®), oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percocet®), hydromorphone (Dilaudid®), oxymorphone (Opana®), morphine (Kadian®, Avinza®), and codeine.
Illegal street drugs include fake prescription medications (pills that look like prescription medications but contain other substances such as fentanyl), heroin, and non-prescription fentanyl.
There is no completely safe dose of any opioid.
Prescription opioids and illegal opioids are addictive and can be deadly. There is no completely safe dose of prescription opioids, which is why they are prescribed carefully by doctors.
Common names for prescription opioid pain medications:
Heroin is known by many street/slang names: Brown Sugar, China White, Chiva, Dope, H, Hell Dust, Horse, Junk, Negra, Skag, Skunk, Smack, Tar, Thunder, White Horse, and Cheese.
Opioids have many effects on the body.
Most opioids reduce the feeling of physical pain for a short time. They can affect the part of your brain that processes emotional pain and loneliness, and they can temporarily make you feel all-around better.
Your brain likes this “reward” and can push your body to want more and feel worse without it. Unwanted long-term brain changes can happen with even limited doses of opioids.
Opioid Facts and Risks
People in Arizona are dying every day from opioids.
People are overdosing and dying from prescription and illegal opioids every day in Arizona. You may know family members or friends who are struggling with opioids and have overdosed or died. You can see what’s happening with deaths and overdoses in Arizona.
Your brain is affected by opioids.
Brains develop rapidly during the teen years. These positive changes to the brain help you make decisions and have control over your life in the future.
Exposing your developing brain to opioids can hurt your future. Opioids and other substances can lead to changes in the brain, causing decreased memory, concentration, and ability to learn. Opioids can also impact your ability to make goals and decisions.
You can be exposed to opioids in a number of places.
You may be prescribed an opioid after getting your wisdom teeth removed or being treated for a sports injury.
There can be risks with these legal opioids, which is why doctors are careful when they prescribe them. Your parents may store prescription drugs in safe locations because of how dangerous the drugs can be.
You may be offered a prescription opioid or unknown pill or illegal substance by family members or friends. Never take a drug that you were not prescribed. Taking opioids that were not prescribed to you can lead to addiction, overdose, and death.
Your future can be impacted by using opioids during your years in school.
The use of prescription opioids before 12th grade is associated with future problems with opioids, including misuse and addiction.
Most people who have problems with substances such as drugs or alcohol start using them before the age of 18.
Many teens use drugs “because others are doing it” or they think “everyone” is doing it.
You may fear not being accepted in a social circle that includes people who are using drugs.
You may think a lot of teenagers take opioids to deal with school or life stress.
In Arizona, most teenagers are not misusing or experimenting with opioids.
For every 1 Arizona high schooler who ever took prescription pain medication without a doctor’s prescription or differently than prescribed, 6 high schoolers have not. That means nearly 85% never misused prescription pain medications.
For every 1 Arizona high schooler who ever used heroin, 53 high schoolers have not. That means more than 98% never tried heroin.
Opioids cause changes in your brain.
Opioids will affect different people in different ways. In some people, changes can happen very quickly; in others, brain changes happen after longer opioid use.
The longer someone misuses opioids, the more likely that person will lose self-control. It gets more and more difficult to resist the drug, as opioids lower the ability to say no.
Prescription opioids and illegal opioids carry a risk of addiction.
All opioids, at any dose, carry some risk of addiction.
The first time someone takes an opioid, the brain is flooded with a chemical called dopamine. The amount of this rewarding chemical is much more than would occur naturally. This creates a strong drive to keep taking an opioid. This is what leads people to develop an addiction to opioids.
But with repeated use of opioids, changes in the brain cause the opioid to have less positive effects, and a person is driven to take an opioid in order not to feel bad. After a short time, the opioid will stop making you feel good. Taking the opioid becomes the most important thing in the person’s life (more than family, school, sports, or money) because without it, you will feel awful.
There are factors that can decrease your risk for addiction.
Not all young people have the same risk for opioid addiction. Risk factors can include stressful experiences in early life. Stress at home and school and with your family and friends can increase the chance of developing an addiction.
There are also protective factors that shield you against addiction, like being optimistic, capable of handling difficult situations, able to resist peer pressure, and supported by friends and family.
You, your family, and your community can work to increase the number of protective factors and decrease the risk factors in your life to reduce your vulnerability to addiction. In the end, your choices determine whether you start to use or not and ask for help or not.
Opioid addiction can have a major impact on your life.
Scary things can happen with addiction, which is a brain disease. There can be long-lasting changes in your brain, which you may not see, but you will feel them in your daily life:
You can feel awful, sick, and upset if you’re not taking an opioid
You can develop powerful urges to take more opioids
You can lose interest in how you look or how you do in school or sports
You can start to steal money or drugs from others
You can lose family and friend relationships
You can lose your strength to say no
You can lose the enjoyment of life, like hanging out with friends, seeing movies, or going on walks with your dog
Overdoses happen, and they are life-threatening.
Anyone who uses opioids can experience an overdose, but these factors may increase the risk:
- Combining opioids with alcohol or certain other drugs
- Taking high daily dosages of prescription opioids
- Taking more opioids than prescribed
- Using illegal opioids, like heroin or fentanyl
- Certain medical conditions
Signs of an overdose include small pinpoint pupils, falling asleep or loss of consciousness, slow and shallow breathing, choking or gurgling sounds, limp body, and pale or cold skin. It can be hard to tell if a person is high or experiencing an overdose, so always treat it like an overdose.
- Call 911 immediately
- Administer naloxone, if available
- Try to keep the person awake and breathing
- Lay the person on his/her side to prevent choking
- Stay by the person until help arrives
Death from an opioid overdose happens when too much of the drug overwhelms the brain and interrupts the body’s natural drive to breathe.
There are treatment options for people who have problems with opioids.
There are effective treatments, but they take time and a great deal of individual, family, and community effort. People often relapse several times before being able to fully recover from opioid addiction. Even then, the vulnerability to addiction may remain for the rest of the person’s life.
Protect Myself, Friends and Family
Prescription opioids should be taken only if prescribed to you for special situations like after surgery, after a broken bone, or at end of life.
Prescription opioids should only be taken if they are prescribed to you by a doctor or other health care professional. You have to follow the directions on the prescription to make sure you are safely taking these medications.
If you are prescribed opioids, make sure your parents and doctor know about all the other medications you are taking. Mixing opioids with other medications, substances, or illegal drugs can increase your risk of dying.
Signs of opioid misuse and addiction can be missed.
You may have a problem with opioids if you feel uncomfortable without taking an opioid, if you’re stealing to pay for opioids, or if you’re lying to friends and family about how much you are using.
If you, your friends, or your family members are experiencing drowsiness, constipation, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, dry mouth, headaches, sweating and mood changes, it could indicate a problem with opioids. Talk to your parents or your doctor if you are having any of these symptoms.
Build Skills and Manage Stress
Build up your real-life friendships and social skills.
Today we have fewer quality relationships, leading to what some call “a loneliness epidemic.” Isolation and loneliness are bad for your health.
You are less likely to develop an addition to opioids:
Try to form good, honest relationships with people. It requires the ability to communicate clearly and avoid misunderstandings. You can learn to listen and openly express your opinions.
An emotional skill like empathy – being aware of your own self and feeling the emotions of others – is a key link between self and others. If you could use help with this, mentoring programs have been shown to help with social skills.
Improve your stress management skills.
Stress in teenagers is increasing. Without knowing how to deal with it, stress may lead to anxiety, avoiding people, aggressiveness, or drug use.
Teenage stress can come from:
- School demands and frustrations
- Negative thoughts and feelings about yourself
- Changes in your body
- Problems with friends or peers at school
- Unsafe living environment
- Separation or illness of parents
- Financial situation
You can create your own personalized stress plan here.
A stress plan can include:
- Tackle the problem (identify the problem, avoid stress when possible, let some things go)
- Take care of your body (exercise, do active relaxation, eat well, and sleep well)
- Deal with emotions (de-stressing exercises, release anger/frustration)
- Make the world better (contribute something positive)
Build up your ability to say no.
Avoid situations where others are drinking or using drugs. You may need to change friend groups if you find yourself regularly exposed to peers' substance use.
When you are offered opioids or another substance:
- Say “NO” quickly, and do not hesitate
- Have your voice clear and firm
- Make direct eye contact
- Suggest an alternative like something else to do or something else to eat or drink
- Ask the person to stop offering and not do it again
- Change the subject
- Avoid the use of vague answers (don’t say, “not right now”)
- Do not feel guilty about refusing to use
Listed below are some people who may offer you an opioid in the future. Give some thought to how you will respond to them.
- What would you say to someone close to you?
- What would you say to someone you want to impress?
- What would you say to a family member?
Say YES to hanging out with friends, playing sports, reading, listening to music, and other fun parts of life.
Teenagers in Arizona have unique and exciting things going on. Find ideas from our I’ve Got Something Better list.
Don’t worry about checking social media while living your life. Research shows that limiting time on social media platforms actually leads to less fear of missing out.
Ask for help from your parents, teacher, or doctor if you or your friends have problems with opioids. If you're wondering if you might have a problem, or want to help someone you care about, get help here.
Protect my Friends and Family
If you are a teenager in Arizona, you can help prevent opioid misuse and addiction.
Be a peer leader and a positive influence on your friends. Peer-to-peer influence is one of the most significant factors for preventing or starting opioid use.
Join the Governor’s Youth Commission to become a leader in your community.
What if someone I know has a problem with opioids?
Opioids can make changes to your brain that work against your goals, reason, and willpower as you try to stop. It is unlikely that quitting “cold turkey” or just “promising to stop” will be successful. Help can come from a parent, medical professional, or school counselor. We also have resources on our Get Help page.
For Parents, Teachers and Communities
If you are a family member of a teenager in Arizona, you can help prevent opioid misuse and addiction.
The family environment of teenagers plays a significant role in their experimentation with substances and eventual problematic use.
Family-based programs have been shown to be effective in preventing early and problematic substance use. For example:
- Strengthening Families Program has shown reductions in prescription drug misuse up to 13 years after the intervention.
- Familias Unidas is a family-based intervention for Hispanic or Latino youth, and the program has been shown to lower substance use or delay the start of substance use among adolescents.
Coping Power is designed to build problem-solving and self-regulation skills for parents and children with signs of aggression.
If you are an educator of teenagers in Arizona, you can help prevent opioid misuse and addiction.
School-based programs that promote social and emotional competencies to reduce stress, express emotion appropriately, and resist negative social influences tend to have the greatest overall impact on substance misuse and related harm. You can read about Arizona programs here.
One well-researched and widely used program is LifeSkills Training, and it has been shown to delay teenagers’ early use of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances.
A multicultural model, keepin’it REAL, has shown positive effects on substance use among Mexican-American youth in the Southwest.
Project Toward No Drug Abuse is designed for youth who are attending alternative high schools, but the program can be delivered in traditional high schools as well. It was shown to have positive effects on alcohol and drug misuse.
If you are a community leader in Arizona, you can help prevent opioid misuse and addiction.
Encourage evidence-based school and family programs that work to prevent substance use initiation and misuse.
Encourage destigmatization of substance use disorders, as these are chronic brain diseases, not moral failings.
Encourage mentorship programs for youth. These have been shown to increase the social, emotional, and cognitive skills of this upcoming generation. Optional programs that exist currently in Arizona are listed here.
See the Arizona Rx Drug Toolkit. It is a roadmap for coalitions, non-profits, and other community stakeholders.