• If you are having a medical emergency, call 9-1-1
  • If you need crisis assistance call 410-531-6677 or 2-1-1
  • Call us at 410-313-6202 to discuss Behavioral Health resources and referrals.

What are Opioids?

Prescription opioids are medications that are chemically similar to endorphins – opioids that our body makes naturally to relieve pain – and also similar to the illegal drug heroin.  In nature, opioids are found in the opium poppy plant. Opioid medications can be natural (made from the plant), semi-synthetic (modified in a lab from the plant), and fully synthetic (completely made by people).  

Prescription opioids usually come in pill form and are given to treat severe pain— pain from dental surgery, serious sports injuries, or cancer. Opioids are also commonly prescribed to treat other kinds of pain that lasts a long time (chronic pain), but it is unclear if they are effective for long term pain.  

For most people, when opioids are taken as prescribed by a medical professional for a short time, they are relatively safe and can reduce pain effectively. However, dependence and addiction are still potential risks when taking prescription opioids. Dependence means you feel withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug. Continued use can lead to addiction, where you continue to use despite negative consequences. These risks increase when these medications are misused. Prescription medications are some of the most commonly misused drugs by teens, after tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana. Also known as: Happy Pills, Hillbilly Heroin, OC, Oxy, Percs, or Vikes


Additional Information


Opioid and Heroin Use


Prescription opioids are chemically closely related to heroin, and their effects, especially when misused, can be very similar. Because heroin may be cheaper to get, people who have become addicted to prescription pain medications sometimes switch to using heroin. Nearly 80 percent of people addicted to heroin started first with prescription opioids. 


Can you overdose or die from prescription opioids?


You can overdose and die from prescription opioid misuse. In fact, taking just one large dose could cause the body to stop breathing.

Deaths from overdoses of prescription drugs have been increasing since the early 1990s, largely due to the increase in misuse of prescription opioid pain relievers. Nearly 23,000 people died from an overdose of a prescription pain medication in 2015, with alarming increases among young people ages 15 to 24.
Signs of a possible overdose are:

  • slow breathing
  • blue lips and fingernails
  • cold damp skin
  • shaking
  • vomiting or gurgling noise

People who are showing symptoms of overdose need urgent medical help (call 911 immediately). A drug called naloxone can be given to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and prevent death—but only if it is given in time.

Naloxone is available as an easy-to-use nasal spray. In Maryland, naloxone can be gotten without a prescription in advance, so that in the event of an overdose, it can be given right away without waiting for emergency personnel (who may not arrive in time). 



What if someone I know needs help?


If you, or a friend, are in crisis and need to speak with someone now: 

  • Call 1-800-422-0009 – the Maryland Crisis Hotline
  • Call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (they don't just talk about suicide—they cover a lot of issues and will help put you in touch with someone close by)

If you need information about drug treatment, help can be found at:  

  • Howard County Health Department – 410-313-6202
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA).  Call the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator at 1-800-662-HELP


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