Understanding opioid-related terms


Terms related to opioids can be confusing, so the federal government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compiled this list:

Acute Pain: Pain that usually starts suddenly and has a known cause, like an injury or surgery. It normally gets better as a body heals and lasts less than three months.
Benzodiazepines: Sometimes called "benzos," these are sedatives often used to treat anxiety, insomnia and other conditions. Combining benzodiazepines with opioids increases a person's risk of overdose and death.
Chronic pain: Pain that lasts three or more months and can be caused by a disease or condition, injury, medical treatment, inflammation or even an unknown reason.
Drug misuse: The use of prescription drugs without a prescription or in a manner other than as directed by a doctor.
Drug abuse or addiction: Dependence on a legal or illegal drug or medication. See opioid use disorder.
Fentanyl: Pharmaceutical fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain medication, approved for treating severe pain, typically advanced cancer pain. It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. However, illegally made fentanyl is sold for its heroin-like effect, and it is often mixed with heroin and-or cocaine as a combination product.
Heroin: An illegal, highly addictive opioid drug processed from morphine.
Naloxone: A prescription drug that can reverse the effects of opioid overdose and can be life-saving if administered in time. The drug is sold under the brand names Narcan and Evzio.
Non-opioid therapy: Methods of managing chronic pain that does not involve opioids. These methods can include, but are not limited to, acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil), cognitive behavioral therapy, physical therapy and exercise, medications for depression or for seizures or interventional therapies (injections).
Non-pharmacologic therapy: Treatments that do not involve medications, including physical treatments (exercise therapy, weight loss) and behavioral treatments (cognitive behavioral therapy).
Opioid: Natural or synthetic chemicals that interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain, and reduce the intensity of pain signals and feelings of pain. This class of drugs included the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and pain medications available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and many others. Opioid pain medications are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor, but because they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief, they can be misused.
Opioid analgesics: Commonly referred to as prescription opioids, medications that have been used to treat moderate to severe pain in some patients. The include morphine, codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone, methadone, a synthetic opioid, tramadol and fentanyl.
Opioid use disorder: A problematic pattern of opioid use that causes significant impairment or distress. A diagnosis is based on specific criteria such as unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control use, or use resulting in social problems and a failure to fulfill obligations at work, school or home. Opioid use disorder has also been referred to as opioid abuse or dependence or opioid addiction.
Overdose: Injury to the body (poisoning) that happens when a drug is taken in excessive amounts. An overdose can be fatal or nonfatal.
Physical dependence: Adaptation to a drug that produces symptoms of withdrawal when the drug is stopped.
Prescription drug monitoring programs: State-run electronic databases that track controlled substance prescriptions. The programs help providers identify patients at risk of opioid misuse and abuse due to overlapping prescriptions, high dosages or co-prescribing of opioids with benzodiazepines.
Tolerance: Reduced response to a drug with repeated use.