Opioids are natural and synthetic forms of opium that are
widely used as pain relievers. Opium is extracted from the
opium poppy plant which contains chemicals used to produce
opioid pain medication such as morphine.
Opioids include other prescription medications, such as
hydrocodone (Vicodin or Norco), oxycodone (Percocet or
Oxycontin), fentanyl, codeine, and methadone. Opiate pain
relieving medications like morphine allow for modern surgical
procedures and palliative care of cancer patients. However,
since the 1990's, clinicians have prescribed opioids for more
conditions, longer durations, and at higher doses than at any
other time in the past. The widespread increase in opioid
prescribing was largely born from misleading claims by
pharmaceutical companies about the risks of harm and
addiction to individuals taking such medications.
The illegal drug heroin is also an opioid. As prescription opioid
overuse has risen, so too has heroin addiction.