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Blog Post | April 24, 2018

Prescription Opioids 101

Like most folks, you probably don’t think you have any potentially dangerous opioids tucked away in your medicine cabinet or under the sink. You may be surprised to find out you actually do – but didn’t know it. Different names are often used for the same drugs, which can make it difficult to tell exactly what you have at home – especially if you recognize the generic name, but didn’t know the brand name.

If you’ve ever been treated for severe pain from surgery, an injury, or an illness, it’s entirely possible you still have prescription opioids in your home.

First, the basics…

Opiates and opioids are a class of controlled pain-management drugs that contain natural or synthetic chemicals based on morphine, the active component of opium. Opiates are naturally derived from the opium poppy, while Opioids are synthetic or partly synthetic drugs that work much in the same way as opiates – but their active ingredients are chemical.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse classifies opioids in three ways: Natural, Semi-Synthetic, and Fully-Synthetic.

Natural Opioids (or opiates)

Nitrogen-containing base chemical compounds, called alkaloids, that occur in plants such as the opium poppy. Examples are morphine and codeine.

Semi-synthetic opioids

Man-made opioids but are created in labs from natural opioids. One example is oxycodone, also known as OxyContin.

Fully synthetic opioids

Completely man-made, such as Fentanyl or Methadone.

So what are common prescription opioids?

  • Codeine (Most often combined with acetaminophen or aspirin, I.E, Tylenol® with Codeine aka Tylenol #3, Aspirin with Codeine, Empirin® with Codeine, Fiorinal with Codeine)
  • Diphenoxylate (Lomotil®)
  • Fentanyl (Actiq®, Duragesic®, Sublimaze®)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin®, Lorcet®, Lortab®, Zohydro ER, Vicodin®)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid®, Exalgo)
  • Meperidine (Demerol®)
  • Methadone (Methadose®, Dolophine®)
  • Morphine (Arymo ER®, Roxanal®, Roxanal-T®, Duramorph®, Oramorph®, MSIR®   (Morphine Sulfate Instant Release), MS Contin®, Kadian®, Kadian ER®, Morphabond®, Avinza®,)
  • Oxycodone (Percodan®, OxyContin®, Percocet®)
  • Oxymorphone (Opana®)
  • Pethidine (Demerol®)
  • Propoxyphene (Darvon®)

And don’t just focus on the pills in your medicine cabinet: prescription opioids can come in several forms– tablets, capsules, liquids for injection, syrups, nasal sprays, skin patches, solutions and suppositories.

If you are uncertain about any of the prescriptions you have in your home or just want to know if it’s an opioid, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine website to search by brand name or generic name.

You can learn more about the effect of prescription opioids at National Institute for Drug Abuse.

What Next?

Now that you know what’s in your medicine cabinet, we invite you to learn how to safely get dispose of your unused or expired medication. Hint: don’t flush it!

Gone for Good: At-Home Drug DisposalGone for Good: Providing discreet, at-home drug deactivation option helps break down barriers that can prevent people from disposing of drugs properly, including lack of easy access to disposal sites and the stigma surrounding substance use disorder.

Information for this article comes from the National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; SAMHSA, Federal Drug Administration; Center for Disease Control; and U.S. Library of Medicine