Opioids/ Painkillers | Drug Free Kids Canada
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Opioids/ Painkillers



Opioid drugs act by effectively changing the way a person experiences pain.

Commonly referred to as painkillers, Opioids are drugs that contain opium or are derived from and imitate opium. They are prescribed for pain relief and are only available by prescription.

Most opioid or painkilling drug prescriptions are non-refillable and, when used properly under a medical doctor’s supervision, are safe and effective.

Morphine derivatives, or narcotics, come from opioids and are used to therapeutically treat pain, suppress coughing, alleviate diarrhea, and induce anesthesia. When using these narcotics, abusers experience a general sense of well-being by reduced tension, anxiety, and aggression.

Although painkillers have different potencies and are taken in different ways, when they are abused they all pose a risk for addiction and other serious effects.


Examples of Opioid Painkillers

Some of the most well known painkillers are listed below with the names you might find on a prescription label.

Opioid table2


  • Codeine: like morphine, this is found in opium, is weaker in action than morphine, and is used especially as a painkiller.
  • Fentanyl (and fentanyl analogs): a man-made opioid painkiller similar to morphine that is administered as a skin patch or orally.
  • Morphine: the powerful, active ingredient of opium is used as a painkiller and sedative.
  • Opium: from the opium poppy, formerly used in medicine to soothe pain but is now often replaced by derivative alkaloids (as morphine or codeine) or man-made substitutes (opioids).
  • Hydrocodone: often combined with acetaminophen for use as a painkiller. Vicodin (which is not available in Canada, but can be found in the USA) is an example.
  • Oxycodone: a narcotic painkiller, for example Percocet and Percodan.
Street or Slang Terms for Painkillers

Oxies, OC, oxycotton, 80s, percs, vikes, and vikings are commonly used slang terms to refer to painkillers.


Opioid painkillers are the prescription drugs most commonly abused by teens

According to the 2017 CAMH OSDUHS study, one in ten high school students (Grade 7 – 12) reported using a prescription opioid pain reliever at least once during the past 12 months. In Ontario alone that represents 95,000 students.


In Canada as a whole, it’s estimated that approximately 375,000 Canadian students have taken prescription drugs not prescribed to them.

(DFK estimate)

How Do Teens Abuse Painkillers?

There are several ways painkillers can be taken. Most teens report swallowing pills, but they can also be crushed and snorted for an intensified effect.

Signs and Symptoms of Painkiller Abuse

opiate-abuse-infographic (2)

Short-term effects
Painkillers can cause drowsiness, inability to concentrate, apathy, lack of energy, constriction of the pupils, flushing of the face and neck, constipation, nausea, vomiting, and most significantly, respiratory depression.

Long-term effects
If a teen abuses painkillers for a period of time, he can become addicted to the drug and experience withdrawal symptoms when he stops taking the drug. Associated with addiction is tolerance, which means more and more of the drug or a combination of drugs is needed to produce the same high or euphoric feeling, possibly, leading to overdose.

Due to the physical dependence produced by chronic use of opioid painkillers, teens who are prescribed opioid medications need to be monitored not just when they are appropriately taking the medicine, but also when they stop using the drug to reduce or avoid withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms of withdrawal can include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes, and involuntary leg movements.

Potentially dangerous Drug Interactions
Painkillers should never be used with alcohol, antihistamines, barbiturates, or benzodiazepines.
Since these substances slow breathing, their combined effects could lead to life-threatening respiratory depression.

If you or your teen is already taking a prescribed painkiller, always consult with your physician before taking any other medicine.

Signs of Opioid Overdose

Physical signs of painkiller overdose include pinpoint pupils, cold and clammy skin, confusion, convulsions, severe drowsiness, and slow or troubled breathing.

If you see your teen or anyone else in this state, call 911 immediately.

DFK offers links to resources in your region to help you and your family find the right kind of help for opioid or painkiller dependency or addiction.



Fentanyl is a highly potent prescription painkiller that is linked to an increasing number of deaths in this country.

Many of these overdoses are linked to pharmaceutical-grade fentanyl that is diverted onto the streets and consumed unknowingly by those with addictions and recreational users alike.  However, illicit fentanyl produced in clandestine labs is also responsible for causing overdose deaths. 

Click here for more on illicit fentanyl

Fentanyl is 40 times more powerful than Heroin and 50 to 100 times potent than morphine

Fentanyl is an extremely powerful synthetic opiate analgesic similar to but more potent than morphine. It is typically used to treat patients with severe pain, or to manage pain after surgery. It is also sometimes used to treat people with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to opiates.

When prescribed by a physician, Fentanyl is often administered via injection, transdermal patch, or in lozenge form.

In its prescription form, Fentanyl is known as Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze.

Like heroin, morphine, and other opioid drugs, Fentanyl works by binding to the body’s opiate receptors, highly concentrated in areas of the brain that control pain and emotions. When opiate drugs bind to these receptors, they can drive up dopamine levels in the brain’s reward areas, producing a state of euphoria and relaxation.

Deaths involving Fentanyl

The number of deaths involving Fentanyl has risen in Canada. Between 2009 and 2014,there were at least 655 deaths in Canada where fentanyl was determined to be a cause or a contributing cause. This represents an average of one death every three days over this time period.

Source: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA)

Download the entire CCSA Report “Deaths involving Fentanyl in Canada 2009- 2014


street fentanyl

Fentanyl on the Street

Street names for the drug include Apache, China girl, China white, dance fever, friend, goodfella, jackpot, murder 8, TNT, as well as Tango and Cash.


Mixing fentanyl with street-sold heroin or cocaine markedly amplifies the drugs’ potency and potential dangers. 

Signs of Fentanyl overdose

Physical signs of fentanyl overdose include: Drowsiness/respiratory depression, respiratory arrest, nausea, confusion, constipation, sedation, unconsciousness, coma and death.
Medications called opiate receptor antagonists act by blocking the effects of opiate drugs. Naloxone is one such antagonist.

Overdoses of fentanyl should be treated immediately with an opiate antagonist.

If you see your teen or anyone else in this state, call 911 immediately.

DFK offers links to resources in your region to help you and your family find the right kind of help for fentanyl abuse.