Medications for Opioid Overdose

Medications for Opioid Use Disorder
This infographic shows the different types of medications prescribed for opioid overdose, withdrawal, and addiction.

Medications for opioid overdose, withdrawal, and addiction
Medications for opioid overdose, withdrawal, and addiction are safe, effective and save lives.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse supports research to develop new medicines and delivery systems to treat opioid use disorder and other substance use disorders, as well as other complications of substance use (including withdrawal and overdose), to help people choose treatments that are right for them.

FDA-approved medications for opioid addiction, overdose, and withdrawal work in various ways.

  • Opioid Receptor Agonist: Medications attach to opioid receptors in the brain to block withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
  • Opioid Receptor Partial Agonist: Medications attach to and partially activate opioid receptors in the brain to ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
  • Opioid Receptor Antagonist: Medications block activity of opioid receptors in the brain to prevent euphoric effects (the high) of opioids and alcohol and help reduce cravings.
  • Adrenergic Receptor Agonist: A medication that attaches to and activates adrenergic receptors in the brain and helps alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

Four cards show medications prescribed to reduce opioid use and cravings.

  • Methadone available in daily liquid or tablets. Brand names are Dolophine® and Methadose®. Generics are available.
  • Naltrexone available in a monthly injection. Brand name is Vivitrol®
  • Buprenorphine available in daily tablet or monthly injection. Brand name is Sublocade®. Generic tablets are available.
  • Buprenorphine/Naloxone is available in daily film that dissolves under the tongue or tablet. Brand names are Zubsolv® and Suboxone® and generics are available.
  • Lofexidine treats withdrawal symptoms and is a tablet taken as needed. Brand name is Lucemyra®.
  • Naloxone reverses overdose and is available as an emergency nasal spray or injection. Brand names are Narcan® and Kloxxado® and generics are available.

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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What are prescription drugs?

Prescription DrugsPrescription drugs are often strong medications, which is why they require a prescription from a doctor or dentist. There are three kinds of prescription drugs that are commonly misused:

  • Opioids—used to relieve pain
  • Depressants—used to relieve anxiety or help a person sleep
  • Stimulants— used for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Prescription drug misuse has become a large public health problem, because misuse can lead to addiction, and even overdose deaths.

What Makes Prescription Drug Misuse Unsafe

Every medication has some risk for harmful effects, sometimes serious ones. Doctors and dentists consider the potential benefits and risks to each patient before prescribing medications and take into account a lot of different factors, described below. When prescription drugs are misused, they can be just as dangerous as drugs that are made illegally.

  • Personal information. Before prescribing a drug, health providers consider a person’s weight, how long they’ve been prescribed the medication, other medical conditions, and what other medications they are taking. Someone misusing prescription drugs may overload their system or put themselves at risk for dangerous drug interactions that can cause seizures, coma, or even death.
  • Form and dose. Doctors know how long it takes for a pill or capsule to dissolve in the stomach, release drugs to the blood, and reach the brain. When misused, prescription drugs are sometimes taken in larger amounts or in ways that change the way the drug works in the body and brain, putting the person at greater risk for an overdose. For example, when people who misuse OxyContin® crush and inhale the pills, a dose that normally works over the course of 12 hours hits the central nervous system all at once. This effect increases the risk for addiction and overdose.
  • Side effects. Prescription drugs are designed to treat a specific illness or condition, but they often affect the body in other ways, some of which can be uncomfortable, and in some cases, dangerous. These are called side effects.  Side effects can be worse when prescription drugs are not taken as prescribed or are used in combination with other substances. See more on side effects below.

How Prescription Drugs are Misused

Prescription Drugs
  • Taking someone else’s prescription medication, even if it is for a medical reason (such as to relieve pain, to stay awake, or to fall asleep).
  • Taking a prescription medication in a way other than prescribed—for instance, taking more than the prescribed dose or taking it more often, or crushing pills into powder to snort or inject the drug.
  • Taking your own prescription in a way that it is not meant to be taken is also misuse. This includes taking more of the medication than prescribed or changing its form—for example, breaking or crushing a pill or capsule and then snorting the powder.
  • Taking the prescription medication to get “high.”
  • Mixing it with alcohol or certain other drugs. Your pharmacist can tell you what other drugs are safe to use with specific prescription drugs.
You Are Prevention

Substance use affects many youth, families, and communities. There are things you can do regardless of who you are, how old you are, how much time you have, or where you live in Maine.
The time to act is now to keep our communities safe, healthy, and successful.

Learn about your role in substance use prevention at:
YouArePrevention.Org

You Are Prevention