Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari on April 23, 2018

Sources

CDC: "Opioid Drugs," "Opioid Data Analysis," "Prescription Opioid Overdose Data."; Drugdatabase.gov: "Clinical Opiate Withdrawal Scale."; New York Times: "An E.R. Kicks the Habit of Opioids for Pain."

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Video Transcript

MICHAEL SMITH: You've heard about drugs called opioids. That's the group that includes heroin. But there are lots of prescription versions, too. Some of the most common ones are fentanyl, methadone, morphine, OxyContin, and Vicodin.

They're powerful drugs. Doctors give them for severe pain. And they're an important weapon, but they're also prescribed sometimes when they're not needed. That's just one factor in the exploding number of deaths from prescription opioid overdoses in the United States. More than 50 people a day die from them.

That's why you need to be careful if you take opioids. It's not hard to get addicted. Some people feel intense happiness when they take them. Your body gets used to having them, so it can take more to ease your pain. If you stop suddenly, you can feel really bad, really fast. That's withdrawal: tremors, vomiting, diarrhea, bone and joint aches, and more. Using the drug again can make the withdrawal symptoms go away. But it also sets up a vicious cycle.

As many as 1 in 4 people who are prescribed opioids for long-term pain go on to become addicted to them.

Here are some things you can do.

Avoid getting addicted, always take medicine the way it's prescribed.

Never take someone else's medication.

Don't drink alcohol if you take prescription pain meds.

And for long-term pain management, work with your doctor to find other ways to help you feel better.

For WebMD, I'm Dr. Michael Smith.