Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin as well as powerful pain relievers available by prescription. These include oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, fentanyl, and many others. These drugs are chemically related and interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain. Opioid pain relievers are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor. They are frequently misused (taken in a different way or in a greater quantity than prescribed, or taken without a doctor’s prescription). They can produce euphoria as well as pain relief. Regular use—even as prescribed by a doctor—can produce dependence. When misused or abused, opioid pain relievers can lead to fatal overdose. The current epidemic of prescription opioid abuse has led to an increased use of heroin.
Heroin is an opioid drug that is synthesized from morphine. It is a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of the Asian opium poppy plant. Heroin usually appears as a white or brown powder or as a black sticky substance, known as “black tar heroin.”