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Substance Use: Common Drugs


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Opioids are very strong painkillers.

People who use these drugs can become dependent on them. Opioid medicines include drugs such as codeine, morphine (MS-Contin), hydromorphone (Dilaudid), oxycodone (OxyNeo), fentanyl (Duragesic) and meperidine (Demerol). Heroin is also an opioid but isn't used medically and can’t be bought legally. Some opioids, such as codeine and oxycodone, can be comb​​ined with drugs like Aspirin (ASA) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) to increase pain relief.

Opioids can be used in tablet form, injected, snorted, or smoked.

You can be fined or go to jail for carrying opioids without a prescription, prescription shopping, and making or selling opioids. Prescription shopping is getting prescriptions for opioids without telling the doctor you had another prescription for opioids in the last 30 days.

What are the short-term effects?

Besides pain relief and a strong feeling of excitement/pleasure, opioids can cause:
  • nausea and vomiting
  • constipation
  • drowsiness
  • tiny pupils
  • vision problems (e.g., blurry, or trouble seeing in the dark)
  • anxiety
  • trouble concentrating
  • decreased appetite

Low doses of opioids can affect your driving. Higher doses can lower your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. Very high doses can cause disorientation, convulsions, and hallucinations. An overdose can result in coma and death. Taking opioids with alcohol or other drugs like antidepressants, or sleeping pills is also very dangerous.

What are the long-term effects?

  • People who take opioids for a long time can feel depressed, have trouble concentrating and sleeping, and have sexual problems.
  • Constipation can become a very serious problem.
  • Long-term use of opioids with Aspirin​ (ASA) can cause stomach bleeding. Using opioids with acetaminophen for a long time can cause kidney and liver damage.
  • When you take opioids for a long time, your body stops making natural painkillers so even small pains seem bad when the drug leaves your body.
  • Babies born to women addicted to opioids during pregnancy often go through withdrawal after they're born.

Opioids and Addiction

If you use a lot of opioids, you may find that you need more and more to feel the same effects (tolerance). You can become mentally and physically dependent, or addicted to how they make you feel.

Dependent users who quit using opioids may ​have withdrawal symptoms like:
  • craving
  • runny nose and yawning
  • sweating
  • restless sleep or trouble sleeping
  • weakness
  • nausea or vomiting
  • stomach cramps
  • diarrhea
  • muscle spasms or bone pain
  • chills or goose bumps
  • irritability

Mild withdrawal symptoms usually start between 12 and 30 hours after the last time the drug was taken. While the worst symptoms pass within a few days, it can take months to feel normal. Withdrawal can be painful so it's best to stop using under supervised care. Healthcare professionals can help you withdraw safely.​

If you have an addiction to alcohol or any other drug, you should only take opioids under medical supervision.

For more information and to find an addiction services office near you, please call the 24-hour Help Line.

Current as of: August 20, 2019

Author: Poison & Drug Information Service, Alberta Health Services