What are opioids?

Opioids are powerful medications used to treat pain. They are often prescribed for people with strong or long-term pain. Some examples are oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone and codeine. Opioids almost always need to be prescribed by a health care provider (doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant).

Opioids are safe if taken in the right way. They can be very dangerous if:

  • You take more than you’re supposed to.
  • You take them to get high.
  • You take someone else’s medicine.
  • You take them with alcohol or another drug that makes you sleepy. This can make it hard to breathe or make you choke if you throw up.
What are the side effects of opioids?

When you take an opioid in the right way, as instructed by your doctor, you may have some side effects. You may:

  • Feel sleepy
  • Feel sick to your stomach
  • Throw up
  • Be constipated
What are the symptoms of opioid poisoning?

If you take an opioid in the wrong way you may:

  • Become very sleepy
  • Have trouble or stop breathing
  • Vomit, and possibly choke
  • Go into a coma, or even die

Someone who has taken too many opioids may be snoring and look like they are sleeping soundly. But this may be a sign that they are having trouble breathing. Get them help right away. 

What can you do about opioid poisoning?

If someone has taken opioids in a way that could be harmful, call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222 or chat now. We can also answer other questions you have about opioids. If you can, bring the medication bottle to the phone or computer.

If someone has passed out or is not breathing, call 911 right away.

Because opioids can be very dangerous it is important store and take them safely. To prevent opioid poisonings:

  • Always read the label on your medication bottles. It will tell you what the medication is, what it is for, how much to take and possible problems. Check the label each time you take the medication.
  • If you have any questions about your medication, ask your doctor, pharmacist or the poison center at 1-800-222-1222.
  • Always keep medication in its original container, or in a child-resistant pill reminder box. Never store medication in a household container like a sandwich bag or a film canister. 
  • If you are taking more than one medication, keep track of them with a written schedule. Also keep a list to share with your doctors and pharmacist.
  • Get rid of unwanted or expired medication. See our medication disposal page for more information.
  • See our medication page for more medication safety tips, including information on keeping young children and teens safe.