What Are Opioids?

Some opioid medications are made from the poppy plant, while others are made by scientists in a lab. Opioids include prescription medications used to treat pain, as well as fentanyl and heroin.

Prescription Opioids

Prescription opioids or pills are prescribed by doctors to treat really bad pain such as sports injuries, dental work, cancer, and severe chronic pain. When taken as prescribed, they are reasonably safe and can reduce someone’s pain for both the short, and long term. But even though they are prescribed by a doctor they can have serious risks and side effects when misused or not taken as prescribed. Common types include oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine, Percocet and codeine.


Heroin is an illegal, highly addictive opioid that is typically injected, but can also be snorted or smoked. It is typically sold as a white or brownish powder, but also sold as “black tar” heroin which is sticky like roofing tar or hard like coal.


Fentanyl is an opioid drug that is 50x more powerful than heroin. Medically, it is used to treat severe pain and for surgeries. It is now being made illegally, sold on the streets for its “heroin like” effect and often mixed with heroin, cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, imitation or fake pills and other drugs – with or without the individual who is taking its knowledge. Due to its high potency, even the smallest amount can lead to an overdose. Illegally made, or distributed Fentanyl is now the most common drug involved in drug overdose deaths in the United States.

Connection Between Prescription Opioids & Heroin

Prescription opioids and heroin are chemically similar and can produce similar effects. In many communities, heroin is cheaper and easier to get. Because of this, people who become addicted to prescription opioids may switch to using heroin instead.