Opioids are a group of pain-relieving drugs that are highly addictive. Generally, the words opioid and opiate are used interchangeably but there are some distinctions between the two terms. Opioid or opiate use results in the same pain relief processes in the body, as well as the same potential for dependence and addiction. Opioids may be prescription medications or illicit drugs.

What are Opioids?

Opioids are drugs that have strong pain-relieving properties. They are often used to control pain that occurs after surgery or injury. Opioids may also be used for cancer pain that is difficult to control. Some opioids are directly derived from the opium plant while others are synthetic.

Opioid drugs can be used for legitimate medical purposes, such as pain relief, but they are also frequently abused to get high. All opioids act on opioid receptors in the brain, which is directly responsible for the pain relief and sense of euphoria that occurs with opioid use.

Opiates vs. Opioids

Opiates are a type of opioid that is specifically derived from the substance called opium, which comes from the opium poppy plant. All opiates are opioids. Opioid drugs may also be entirely or partially synthetic. Opioids and opiates have the same effects in the body which occur from them binding to specific opioid receptors. It is common to use the term “opioid” to refer to any drug that acts on opioid receptors.

What are Opioids Used For?

Medically, opioids are used to control moderate to severe pain. Opioids are often prescribed after an injury or a surgical procedure. When used for short periods of time, opioids typically don’t cause any problems in the user. Opioids are sometimes used for anesthesia during surgery to prevent pain during and shortly after surgery.

Dosage and Administration

There are several types of opioid medications and some are much more potent than others. If a person is taking opioids for long periods of time, a tolerance can develop and more of the drug will be necessary to control pain adequately. If someone has never taken an opioid before, they will usually start at a low dose. For someone whose body is accustomed to opioids, higher doses are necessary to achieve the same amount of pain control.

Common Types of Opioids

There are many different opioid drugs, each with their own potency, approved medical uses and specific drug properties. The most common opioid medications are listed below along with their brand names (if applicable) and medical uses. Many of these medications are available under their common or generic names as well.

What do Opioids Look Like?

Opioids can look like tablets, capsules, powders, liquids or syrups. Depending on the opioid in question, they can come in many colors and shapes.

Street Names for Opioids

Opioids that are obtained on the streets can be sold under many different names. Sometimes the names come from the actual name of the generic or brand name prescription opioid, or the name may be less obvious. Some opioid street names include:

  • Street Names for Opioids


    Brown Sugar



    China girl






    Dance Fever

    China white







    White Stuff


    Hillbilly heroin


    Stop signs






    Cody/Captain Cody


    Murder 8



Opioids Side Effects

The main use of opioids is to relieve pain, but they are associated with several side effects. Some side effects appear as physical manifestations, while other side effects affect people psychologically. If severe opioid side effects are observed, seek immediate medical attention.


Physical side effects are those that affect different parts of the body directly. Physical side effects of opioid use include:

  • Confusion
  • Sleepiness
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Decreased breathing
  • Physical dependence and tolerance


Psychological side effects of opioids are those that affect the brain and thought processes of the person taking the opioid. These side effects can occur in anyone who uses opioids, but especially with long-term use. Psychological side effects include psychological dependence and addiction.

How Long do Opioids Stay in Your System?

Opioids may remain in the body for varying lengths of time, depending on the type of opioid, along with individual factors, like a person’s weight, height, sex, age, frequency of use and organ health. As opioids are processed through the body, their byproducts may also be detectable in certain body tissues and fluids. Although these timeframes will vary from person to person, there are some general durations that they will remain detectable in blood, urine, hair and breast milk. Opioids are detectable in:

  • Blood from six hours following use up to several days
  • Urine from two to seven days following use
  • Hair for about 90 days following use
  • Saliva from several hours up to several days following use
  • Breast milk for up to 36 hours following use. Generally, opioids should not be taken while breastfeeding as they can cross into the breast milk and have adverse effects on the infant.

Are Opioids Addictive?

Opioids are addictive drugs. Anyone who uses opioids risks developing addiction. People who misuse opioids put themselves at a higher of developing an addiction.

Opioid addiction can lead to opioid withdrawal symptoms when access to the drug is stopped. Opioid withdrawal is very uncomfortable and the acute phase can last for several days. Many people continue taking opioids to avoid withdrawal symptoms. A certified treatment facility can help make withdrawal easier and can provide psychological support to someone who is trying to overcome opioid addiction.

If you struggle with opioid addiction, contact The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health to speak with a representative about how addiction treatment can help. You deserve a healthier future, call today.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.