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Frequently Asked Questions: Opioids

Other Health & Benefit Issues

Basic information about opioids and the opioid crisis.

What are opioids?

Opioids are substances that can be prescribed for pain relief after injury or surgery. Common prescription opioids, such as oxycodone and morphine, manage pain but do not cure it.  Opioids act as central nervous system depressants by slowing down brain activity and producing a calming effect on the body, which helps relieve pain. 

Opioids are also narcotics. Narcotics are substances that induce pain relief, sleep, and have the potential for addiction.

Where do opioids come from?

Some opioids, such as morphine and codeine, originate from the opium poppy plant. 

Manmade, or synthetic, opioids are created through chemical processes in laboratories. Examples are fentanyl and methadone.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. It can be prescribed for severe pain. It is also illegally made and sold as a drug, but it is very dangerous.

Heroin is an illegal opioid. It is semi-synthetic because it is chemically processed from morphine. It lacks medical use and users face serious health risks.

What factors should I consider before taking opioids?

You should discuss your treatment goals with your doctor. You can ask your doctor about other types of medication, as well as your goals for pain management and improving daily function.

Have a talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits associated with opioid therapy. Inform your doctor about your medical history, especially any family history of Substance Use Disorder.

What are the risks of opioids?

All opioids carry the risk of addiction. The body and brain quickly build a tolerance, requiring larger amounts for the same effect. Rapid tolerance may lead to dependence. Dependence happens when not taking opioids results in severe pain and discomfort, leading to increased use.

This cycle can escalate, potentially leading to Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). OUD is a condition where opioid use interferes with daily life, causing challenges at home, work, school, or in relationships. OUD can affect anyone using opioids. It is a chronic condition that requires treatment.

Taking excessive opioids at once can be life-threatening. It can cause respiratory failure and potential death.

Prescription and illegal opioids have led to a surge in overdose deaths since 1999.

What is opioid misuse and how common is it in Texas?

Opioid misuse refers to taking opioids in ways that cause problems. This could include taking them without a prescription, using them for non-medical purposes, or combining them with other substances.

The Attorney General of Texas reported that in 2022, there were 2,782 deaths due to opioid misuse. A large number of those deaths were from synthetic opioids and fentanyl. Travis County and Harris County were heavily impacted.

What is Opioid Use Disorder (OUD)?

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, OUD is a type of Substance Use Disorder.

People with OUD have a pattern of opioid use from using prescription or illegal opioids. This use leads to issues with family, work, school, and/or health issues.

Are people with OUD protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act?

People with OUD are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as long as they are not illegally using substances.

Are there treatment options for opioid dependence in Texas?

Yes, state-funded treatment is available for adults and youth aged 13 to 17 meeting the following requirements:

  • Meet Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria for Substance Use Disorder;
  • Income below 200% of the federal poverty level

Priority populations include pregnant women and those who inject drugs.

Adults in treatment may receive Medications for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD) or Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT).

What is Naloxone?

Naloxone is a medication employed to reverse or diminish the effects of opioids. It helps restore normal breathing after a person experiences an opioid overdose.

These medications are available over the counter at pharmacies, or through prescription.

Is there free civil legal help for people impacted by the opioid crisis?

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