What is an opioid?
Opioids are a group of medications that are commonly prescribed to treat pain.
In combination with pain relief, opioids also produce a high which keeps users relaxed, while elevating their overall levels of contentment; a combination which may give people using them an increased potential for improper use.
Opioids can be prescribed legally by medical professionals, but they are also sold illicitly on the black market.
There are many side effects, both long and short term, that users may receive after using opioids. These side effects can be a result of the usage of prescription or illicit opioids. Below are examples of potential side effects of opioids (Not a complete list):
Short term effects
- Impotence in men
- Nausea and vomiting
- Euphoria (feeling high)
- Difficulty breathing, which can lead to or worsen sleep apnea
- Headaches, dizziness and confusion, which can cause falls and fractures
Long term effects
- Increased tolerance
- Substance use disorder or physical dependence
- Liver damage
- Infertility in women
- Worsening pain (known as “opioid-induced hyperalgesia”)
- Withdrawal symptoms
An opioid overdose is when a toxic or lethal amount of opioids have been consumed, which varies from person to person and can be as little as a few grains of salt. A person can overdose on illicit opioids or prescription opioids.
Symptoms may include:
- Slow or no breathing
- Changes in skin colour
- Deep snoring or gurgling
- Slow or no pulse
- Eyes rolled back
Opioid overdoses can be countered with opioid antagonists (antagonists are substances that stop the physiological effects of another substance). Opioid antagonists, such as naloxone, work by binding to the same receptors in the brain that opioids attach to, effectively ‘kicking’ the opioids off those receptors. It is recommended that even after medications like naloxone have been administered, that those suffering from a suspected overdose seek medical attention, as opioids can live in the body longer than naloxone.