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An opioid use disorder (OUD), meaning an opioid addiction or opioid dependence, is a condition that affects millions of people in the U.S. If you’re struggling with opioid use, help is available.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) National Helpline is free and confidential, and available 24/7 for help with opioid use disorder and other substance use disorders.

What are opioids?

Opioids are powerful drugs that are used to treat pain. Some examples of opioids (sometimes called opiates) that doctors or nurses prescribe to treat pain include morphine, codeine, methadone, fentanyl, buprenorphine, and oxycodone. Heroin and opium are illegal drugs that are also opioids.

What are the risks of using opioids?

Opioids are very good at treating pain, and doctors prescribe them often. However, opioids can cause changes in your brain that can lead to addiction, especially if they’re used without the help of a doctor. But sometimes even people who take opioids as directed by their doctor can develop an opioid use disorder.

Overdosing on opioids is possible, and can be deadly if not treated right away. There is a drug that can save people who are overdosing called naloxone — a nasal spray or shot that can reverse an overdose. It’s sometimes known by the brand name Narcan. If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid use, talk with a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist about keeping naloxone with you in case you need it.

People who inject opioids with needles are more likely to get certain infections, like HIV, hepatitis, and skin infections — especially when sharing needles, syringes, or other injection supplies. Using brand new needles/syringes every time you use can help prevent infection. You may be able to find a needle exchange program in your area to help you do that.

What are the signs of an opioid use disorder?

An opioid use disorder can get in the way of work or school, cause financial and legal problems, and hurt your relationships with family, friends, and loved ones.

The symptoms of an opioid use disorder are:

  • Opioid use getting in the way of work, school, or relationships

  • Uncontrollable urges to take opioids

  • Not being able to cut down the amount of opioids you take

  • Needing more and more opioids over time

  • Intense withdrawal symptoms when the opioid wears off

Opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety or being irritable

  • Insomnia (trouble sleeping)

  • Body aches

  • Sweating

  • Goosebumps

  • Stomach cramps

  • Nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting

  • Fever

Opioid withdrawal can make you feel extremely sick and can be difficult to manage on your own, and can even be dangerous without the help of a doctor or nurse.

If you’re pregnant, it’s especially important to get opioid withdrawal treatment, as it can cause problems with your pregnancy.

How is opioid use disorder treated?

If you’re struggling with using opioids, help is available.

Medication assisted treatment (MAT) is the most effective treatment for opioid use disorder. It involves taking medicine like buprenorphine (like Suboxone), methadone, or naltrexone to control your addiction to opioids. You need a prescription from a doctor or nurse who’s a specialist in substance use treatment to get started on MAT. Learn more about MAT.

Other opioid dependence treatments include:

  • Individual counseling from a mental health or addiction treatment professional

  • Individual or group counseling at a treatment center

  • Medicine (for tobacco, alcohol, or opioids)

  • Residential treatment (where you live at a treatment center for a while)

  • Peer support programs (like 12-step programs)

  • Social support (help with things like housing or jobs)

A nurse or doctor can help you figure out the best treatment for you. You can find health care providers in your area who can help through SAMHSA.

What do I need to know about opioids and pregnancy?

During pregnancy, opioid use disorder needs to be treated with medicine with help from a doctor or nurse. If you’re pregnant and use opioids, don’t try to stop using cold turkey (all at once). It can be dangerous for you and your fetus during pregnancy. Instead, talk with your doctor or nurse about your opioid use so that they can help you make a plan to stay healthy during your pregnancy. If you’re taking methadone or buprenorphine and get pregnant, tell your doctor or nurse. They’ll help you and your fetus stay safe and healthy.

Your nearest Planned Parenthood health center can help connect you with a doctor or nurse who can help with prenatal care and opioid use disorder. You can also visit SAMHSA for treatment programs in your area.