What is an opioid?

An opioid is a drug commonly used to treat moderate to severe pain. Opioids work by stimulating opioid receptors in the brain which reduce pain. Opioids are used in hospitals and are sometimes prescribed by doctors to help treat more severe pain and discomfort. However, research suggests over-the-counter pain medications may actually work better for treating acute pain. There are also illegal opioids, such as heroin.

Some common opioids include:

  • Hydrocodone (Norco, Lortab, Vicodin, Zohydro)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan, Roxicodone)
  • Morphine (MSIR, MS Contin)
  • Codeine (Tylenol #3, Phenergan with codeine)
  • Fentanyl  (Duragesic, Actiq)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Oxymorphone (Opana)
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Tramadol (Ultram, ConZip)
  • Buprenorphine (Subutex, Suboxone, Butrans, Zubsolv)
  • Methadone (Dolophine, Methadose)

Opioids Can Be Overkill

Opioids are very strong prescription pain medications. Since they are addictive, they should be used carefully. Sometimes they are prescribed even though a safer medication would have worked just as well. In many cases, there are much safer and more effective alternatives to help manage pain.

Painkiller Alternatives >

Don’t Add Addiction to Injury

Opioids are addictive. The longer you take opioids, the higher the risk for addiction.

Prescription opioids are just as addictive as heroin. Eighty percent of people who use heroin started with legal prescription opioids.

  • 1 in 4 people who use prescription opioids for long term, for non-cancer pain, struggles with addiction.

  • There are 7,000 opioid prescriptions filled in Utah every day.

  • In 2014, 32 percent of Utah adults aged 18+ had been prescribed an opioid pain medication in the last 12 months.

  • 1 in 23 Utahns aged 12 or older have used prescription opioids non-medically in the past year.

  • Over the last decade, prescription pain medications have been responsible for more drug deaths in Utah than all other drugs combined.

  • In 2014, 24 Utah adults died per month and 820 Utahns were hospitalized due to prescription opioid misuse and abuse.

  • In 2014, 4.3 million Americans used prescription painkillers non-medically (without a prescription or to get “high”) in the last month.

  • In 2014, 1.9 million Americans met criteria for opioid use disorder (addiction) based on their use of opioids in the past year.

  • In 2015, 2.9 percent of Utah students in grades eight, 10 and 12 reported that they had used prescription drugs in the past 30 days that were not prescribed to them by a doctor.

  • Adults, children, men, women, all races and socioeconomic levels, and rural and urban areas, are all affected.

  • Women are more likely to have chronic pain, be prescribed prescription pain relievers, be given higher doses, and use them for longer time periods than men.

  • Women may become dependent on prescription pain relievers more quickly than men.



Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that lasts a lifetime. Treatment opportunities, while effective, are limited. In Utah, less than 10% percent of the people with substance use disorder receives treatment they need.


What Opioid Addiction Looks Like

Learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of opioid addiction is important. Signs and symptoms can be physical, behavioral, and psychological. Healthcare providers should diagnose addiction. These are some of the things to look for.

  • Taking higher doses or taking more frequently than prescribed
  • “Craving” just one more pill or refill
  • Running out of prescriptions too soon
  • Compulsively seeking and using opioids despite harmful consequences
  • Taking the opioid for its psychological effects or to feel high
  • Taking the opioid for reasons other than why it was prescribed
  • Continuously “losing” prescriptions and requesting replacements
  • Mixing pills and alcohol
  • Seeking prescriptions for more than one injury or with multiple doctors or pharmacists
  • Exhibiting abnormal behaviors, hostility, excessive mood swings or sudden personality changes
  • Withdrawing from friends, family or social activities
  • Losing appetite and extreme changes in weight
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Distracted, unable to focus, confused
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Poor decision making


Get Help Now

If you or someone you know shows several of the signs above, seek help.

Utah has many treatment resources available for overcoming dependence and addiction to pain medications. Please contact your health insurance provider,, or call 2-1-1 for local services or treatment centers. For a map of statewide public resources, click here.

To learn more about naloxone, the antidote that reverses an opioid overdose, visit or to get a free naloxone kit, see