What are opioids?


Opioids are a class of drugs that include both natural and synthetic substances derived from or structurally similar to opium, a substance found in the opium poppy plant. Opioids act on the nervous system to provide pain relief and, in some cases, induce euphoria. They can be prescribed for the treatment of moderate to severe pain, but are also frequently misused and abused due to their addictive properties.


Opioids encompass a wide range of substances, including prescription painkillers—like morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone—as well as illicit drugs, like heroin. Opioid use and misuse have been a significant public health concern, particularly in the United States, where an ongoing opioid epidemic has resulted in increased rates of addiction, overdose, and death. The strongest evidence base for the treatment of opioid use disorder (OUD) is medications for addiction treatment (MAT) using medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.

← Back to glossary home

Treatment that works is right at your fingertips.

Get started