Opioids are a class of drugs that exert their biological effects through the opioid receptors in the body.  Heroin is one of many such drugs, which are also often referred to as narcotics, and which includes many prescription pain relievers such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine, fentanyl, morphine, and others.  Like other chemical receptor systems, the attachment of the molecule to the receptor triggers various effects in the brain and other parts of the body.  For opioids, the best known effects are pain relief, pleasure, and drowsiness.  But one of the most important opioid effects is the slowing of breathing.  This important effect is the cause of death in the vast majority of a fatal overdoses.

Unlike most other addictions, medications have the best results in treating opioid addiction.  A complete treatment program should include many components, but medications need to be considered for opioid addiction because of how effective they are – buprenorphine (Suboxone), methadone, and naltrexone (Vivitrol).  There is also a new injectable form of buprenorphine, known as Sublocade. For more information also see our page on opioid stabilization and maintenance treatment with buprenorphine (Suboxone).

Naloxone is also an important medication for use with opioid treatment, but this is used to reverse opioid overdoses.