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Opioids: How do they affect me?

Audio file

Opioids are drugs with pain-relieving properties used to treat chronic or severe pain. 

Opioids can be prescribed by a doctor (oxycodone, morphine, fentanyl, codeine or hydrocodone, or hydromorphone). 

They are highly effective drugs to treat pain. When used improperly, they are highly addictive and can have serious health consequences. 

Opioids are also produced and obtained illegally (such as heroin).  

Opioids are depressants because they slow down the processes in your central nervous system.  They can create a sense of euphoria (feeling high), which gives them the potential to be used improperly.  

Prescription opioids are available in various forms, including syrups, tablets, capsules, nasal sprays, skin patches, and liquids for injection. 

Illegal opioids are consumed in many ways, including swallowing, snorting, smoking or injecting.  

Most opioid overdose deaths happen by accident. The presence of opioid-tainted street drugs has led to a high rate of overdoses and deaths in Canada in recent years. 

Opioid pills

Use opioids safely

Did you know?

  • Take opioids only as prescribed by your doctor. Never use another person’s medication if it is not prescribed to you.  

  • Learn and recognize the signs of opioid overdose. 

  • If someone near you has symptoms of overdose, call for medical attention immediately.  

  • Learn about Naloxone, and consider getting a kit from the pharmacy. 

Long-term effects of opioids

When opioids are used over a long term, people can develop a tolerance, even if the medication was prescribed to treat pain. You may require increasing amounts of the opioid to get the same effect and feeling of relief. This can lead to both physical and psychological addiction.  If you stop taking the drug for a few days, and then start taking the drug at the same dose you were used to, it may increase chances of an overdose.  

You are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when you lower your opioid dose quickly, or suddenly stop taking it. If you plan to reduce your dose, do it with help from a health-care provider.  

Long-term effects of opioid use include:  

  • Increased tolerance 

  • Substance use disorder or dependence 

  • Liver damage 

  • Infertility in women 

  • Worsening pain  

  • Risk of infections at sites of injection or snorting 

  • Risk of certain infectious diseases such as HIV or hepatitis if sharing needles 

  • Life-threatening withdrawal symptoms in babies born to mothers taking opioids 

Long-term use can also lead to withdrawal symptoms when a person suddenly stops taking opioids. This can have serious consequences including:  

  • Chills 

  • Diarrhea 

  • Insomnia 

  • Sweating 

  • Body aches 

  • Nervousness 

  • Widespread or increased pain 

  • Irritability and agitation 

  • Nausea and stomach pain 

Signs of an overdose include: 

  • Slow or absent breathing 

  • Unconsciousness or inability to be woken up 

  • Choking, coughing, gurgling or snoring sounds 

  • Dizziness 

  • Cold, clammy skin 

  • Extremely small pupils 

  • Discoloration of lips and nails 

If someone near you has symptoms of overdose, call for medical attention immediately.


An overdose means a person has too much of a substance in their body.

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