Opioids are some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs. They include oxycodone, hydrocodone, meperidine (Demerol), and many others. The demographics of those who abuse painkillers transcend the stereotypes of typical drug addicts.
Opioid painkillers are prescribed to manage moderate to severe pain. Taken as prescribed, they are an effective and relatively safe part of many pain management plans. However, the risk of negative consequences increases when the medication is misused or abused—as in cases of accidentally taking more than prescribed or simply taking them for other than indicated use. Prescription painkillers and heroin share a similar chemical make-up and, as a result, their effects are similar. They both can elicit euphoria by influencing pleasure/reward circuitry in the brain, which in turn, reinforces problematic opioid use. Though not everyone who uses them becomes addicted, many people find themselves craving pills they were initially prescribed. Slowly, a dependence may develop, even in the presence of a legitimate medical need for the drug. This can open a door to addiction, which negatively impacts physical and mental health, relationships, and work.