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What are opioids?

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.

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