Opioid Use

Opioid Use disorder is a serious public health issue

Drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury death in the United States. Opioid use disorder is a treatable medical condition and opioid overdose is preventable. Call the Illinois Helpline at 833-234-6343 to receive help, including connection to a provider for immediate opioid use disorder treatment.

What are opioids?

Opioids (oh-pee-oyds) are a type of medicine often used to help relieve pain. They work by lowering the number of pain signals your body sends to your brain and changing how your brain responds to pain. Doctors most often prescribe opioids to relieve pain from toothaches and dental procedures, injuries, surgeries and chronic conditions such as cancer. Some prescription cough medicines also contain opioids.

Opioids usually are safe when they are used correctly, but people who misuse opioids can become addicted. Misusing opioids means that you don’t follow your doctor’s instructions for how to take the medicine or you take the drug illegally.

Common opioid types include:







Also known as (street names): Oxy, Percs, Happy pills, Hillbilly Heroin, OC, or Vikes

Opioid use disorder

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of opioid use disorder is often the first step toward treatment. Signs and symptoms can be physical, behavioral and psychological. A primary sign of addiction is the inability to limit use of a substance beyond what is clinically recommended. Learn more about opioid use disorder at https://overcomeopioids.org/.

Other Signs and Symptoms of opioid use disorder include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Shallow or slow breathing rate
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Slurred speech
  • Sleeping more or less than normal
  • Mood swings
  • Euphoria (feeling high)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety attacks

Opioid overdose

An overdose of opioids requires immediate emergency medical treatment. If you suspect someone has overdosed on opioids, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Symptoms of an overdose include:

  • Unresponsive
  • Slow, erratic breathing or no breathing at all
  • Slow, erratic pulse or no pulse
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Constricted (small) pupils

harm reduction resources

The Chicago Department of Public Health offers free Narcan, fentanyl test kits, and harm reduction training. Contact the Office of Substance Use at osu.cdph@cityofchicago to access these resources.

related links

working with your doctor

You'll need a prescription from your doctor before you start taking opioids. The doctor can adjust the dose as needed to help control pain. You may receive around-the-clock doses to manage pain throughout the day and night. Additionally, your doctor may prescribe opioids to be taken "as needed" in case you experience "breakthrough" pain. Breakthrough pain is a flare of pain that you experience despite getting round-the-clock doses of pain medication.
While you're on opioid pain medications, check in with your doctor regularly. Your doctor will need to know:

  • How your pain is responding to the drug
  •  Whether you're having any side effects
  • Whether you have any potential interactions or medical conditions that could increase your risk for side effects, such as sleep apnea, alcohol use, or kidney problems
  • Whether you're taking the drug properly

Additionally, patients should properly discard unused or expired medications by following U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines or visiting drug take back locations.

drug take-back locations in greater chicago

Walgreens Safe Medication Disposal offers kiosks that provide a safe and convenient way to dispose of unwanted, unused or expired medication at no cost, year-round. Kiosks are available at select locations during regular pharmacy hours and offer one of the best ways to ensure medications are not accidentally used or intentionally misused by someone else. Click here for all locations

Chicago Police Department Drug Take Back Locations: The Chicago Department of Public Health has partnered with the Chicago Police Department to provide residents with a place for the safe and proper disposal of unused or expired prescription and over-the-counter medications (for households only). Residents may take their pharmaceuticals to one of the following designated drop off locations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Look for the blue box in the lobby. Click here for all locations.

information for caregivers and family members

Opiate overdose accounted for more deaths in 2014 than car accidents. If someone you care about has a problem abusing these drugs, it is very important for you to offer your non-judgmental concern, while discontinuing enabling behaviors. Provide ongoing support and encouragement for them to enter treatment, but set healthy boundaries and do not help them to obtain or use drugs.

Ways to help someone who is currently abusing opioid painkillers:

  • Show your concern for the person’s well-being without being judgmental.
  • Show empathy and compassion in the same way you’d show it to someone suffering from any other chronic illness. Telling the person what to do is often not as effective as showing them that you are on their team and are prepared to assist them in getting help for their addiction.
  • Create a structured, stable environment. Establishing basic expectations of behavior along with simple, predictable routines around the home help to reduce stress and limit the chaos that can encourage addictive behaviors.
  • Keep track of your loved one’s medications and refills so you and they know what they’re taking and how much should be taken and when.
  • Be aware of overdose. Ask your loved one’s doctor whether a prescription for naloxone (brand name: Narcan), a medication used to counter the effects of an opioid overdose, is appropriate. Because naloxone can’t be self-administered, you may need to learn how to give it to your loved one in an emergency.

For guidance on how to administer naloxone if you suspect an overdose, visit the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition’s website.