Opioids are substances that act on opioid receptors in the brain to produce morphine-like effects and relieve pain. Examples of legal opioids are painkillers prescribed by a physician. Heroin is an illegal opioid. Prescription and illegal opioids are commonly abused and are addictive. Opioid medications bind to the areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. They increase levels of the “feel good” hormone dopamine in the brain’s reward areas and produce an intense feeling of euphoria. As the brain becomes used to these feelings, it often takes more of the drug to produce the same feelings, leading to tolerance, dependence, and, ultimately, addiction.

What is Tolerance?

People can develop tolerance to both illegal and prescription drugs. Tolerance is a physical effect of repeated use of a drug. A person may notice that they need to take more than usual of the same drug to produce the same effects.

What is dependence?

The words dependence an addiction are often used interchangeably, but there are important differences to be aware of. A non-addictive drug can also produce dependence. In medical terms, dependence refers to a physical condition in which the body has adapted to the substance. If a person with dependence stops taking that drug suddenly, that person will experience symptoms that are both measurable and predictable, known as withdrawal symptoms.

What is Addiction?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), addiction is defined as a “chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences”. This compulsion can be very long lasting and can return unexpectedly, even after years of abstinence.

More Facts from the Center For Disease Control and Prevention: -Deaths linked to opioids are skyrocketing. Two million Americans were dependent on prescription opioids in 2014, and overdoses linked to opioids killed more than 28,000 nationwide.

-Every 19 minutes, someone dies from an overdose.

-Heroin is linked to higher incidences of HIV, hepatitis and other blood diseases.

-Heroin addiction is linked to infections of the heart lining and valves, and rheumatological diseases.

NIDA Source: National Institute On Drug Abuse (2003). Preventing Drug Use Among Children and Adolescents: A Research-Based Guide For Parents, Educators and Community Leaders.