The information below has been collected from www.canada.ca/opioids.
Opioids such as fentanyl, morphine, oxycodone and hydromorphone are medications that can help relieve pain.
Opioids are drugs that affect your mind, mood, and mental processes and can also cause euphoria, or the feeling of being “high.” This creates the potential for them to be used improperly.
Legal vs. illegal opioid
Legal opioids are prescribed by a health care professional most often to treat pain from conditions such as injuries, surgery, dental procedures, or long-term chronic pain.
Illegal opioids are any opioids that are made, shared or sold illegally. Illegal opioids include:
- street drugs from a drug dealer
- opioids given to you by someone who is not your health care provider
- opioids that are not prescribed to you but are taken from someone else
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is prescribed to treat severe pain.
Canada’s illegal drug supply is being contaminated with illegal fentanyl. Fentanyl is a cheap way for drug dealers to make street drugs more powerful.
Without drug checking equipment, there is no way to know how much fentanyl has been mixed into illegal drugs because you can’t see, taste or smell it. Consuming as little as a few grains of fentanyl can kill you. Drug checking equipment, such as fentanyl test strips, can help people know what’s in their drugs but there are important limitations to these strips.
Opioids are intended to treat pain.
Doctors may also sometimes prescribe them for other conditions, such as:
- acute (short-term) moderate to severe pain
- chronic (long-term) pain
- moderate to severe diarrhea
- moderate to severe cough
Prescription opioid medications are available in various forms, such as:
- nasal sprays
- skin patches
- liquids for injection
If you have been prescribed an opioid medicine, it should:
- only be taken as prescribed
- never be used by someone for whom it was not prescribed
- never be taken with alcohol or other medications (except as prescribed)
Keep your medication safe to help prevent problematic use by others by:
- never sharing your medication with anyone else
- this is illegal and may also cause serious harm or death to the other person
- keeping track of the amount of pills remaining in a package
- storing opioids in a safe and secure place, out of the reach of children and teenagers
Unused portions of opioid medicine should always be:
- kept out of sight and reach of children and pets
- stored in a safe place to prevent theft, problematic use or accidental exposure
- returned to a pharmacy for safe disposal if it is no longer needed or expired
- this prevents any possibility of illegal use and protects the environment from contamination
Problematic substance use happens when someone uses drugs or alcohol in a way that has harmful effects on their health and life.
Problematic opioid use is using opioids that are not prescribed to you or not following the instructions from your doctor and pharmacist. It also includes using illegal opioids.
When someone regularly uses drugs or alcohol despite continued negative consequences, they may have substance use disorder. This is a medical condition that requires treatment from health care providers. Substance use disorders can involve both psychological and physical dependence.
If someone you know has one or more of the following behaviours, they may be experiencing a substance use disorder:
- constant cravings for the drug
- compulsive drug seeking
- continuous use despite the harms that the drug is causing, such as:
- negative health effects
- missing school or work
- lower grades or marks at school
- isolation from friends and family members
- extreme changes in behaviours and mood
Getting help can mean different things for different people and it can take many different forms. For some people it may mean complete abstinence or continued treatment using opioid replacement therapies such as methadone or buprenorphine.
There are also many health and social services available including non-medical therapies, such as counselling, or support from people with lived and living experience. For more information, please contact us here at OPTIONS.
It can be hard to start a conversation with someone you love about their drug use but it’s important. Drug use can have negative effects on someone’s life. Friends and family are an important support system for someone who is looking for help.
Signs to look for
It can be hard to tell if someone’s drug use is problematic. There are, however, some key signs to look for. Watch to see if your friend or family member is:
- using drugs first thing in the morning, or while at school or work
- missing work or school
- getting lower grades or marks at school
- losing interest in activities they used to enjoy
- spending money on drugs
- finding it takes more drugs to get high
- trying new types of drugs, or mixing drugs together, to get a more intense high
- taking risks to get and use drugs, like using alone
You may also notice that your friend or family member’s personality changes when they use drugs. They might:
- isolate themselves from friends and family members
- have extreme changes in behaviours and mood, such as
- argue and fight more with family and friends
- seem sad, angry or anxious whenever they are not using drugs
- turn to drugs to deal with all their problems
- have trouble remembering things or staying alert
- have trouble with concentration, memory and the ability to think and make decisions
- stop hanging out with friends who do not use drugs
- choose new activities and friends based on using drugs
Start the conversation with your friend or family member
Starting the conversation can be tough, but there are constructive ways you can show you care. Be aware that the conversation might bring out some strong emotions and may not go as you expect. Know that it is okay and it will still show your friend or family member that you care.
Before you start a conversation, know the facts about drugs and their effects. This can help you frame the conversation and relate to the person.
- Show concern. Tell them you are worried because you love them, and want the best for them.
- Listen. There may be some underlying reasons for why they’re using drugs, like mental health problems such as depression, or to cope with previous or ongoing trauma or violence. Listen for these potential issues and validate and acknowledge their experiences without probing them. It may help inform the type of help you encourage your friend or family member to seek.
- Be patient. A tough conversation like drug use can make someone angry or defensive. Don’t rush the conversation. If you need to come back to it another day, do so.
- Keep an open dialogue. Tell them you are there for them, and that they can talk to you anytime.
- Don’t stigmatize. Be aware of the language you use when talking to someone about drugs. Be compassionate and open in the way you talk about it so that the person feels understood and accepted. If someone feels they are being treated unkindly, or judged, they are less likely to seek help.
- Make a list of the good things in their life. Sometimes people can lose sight of the things they do have in their life and their personal strengths. Remind them that there are friends, family members, groups, activities and other things that make getting help worthwhile. Recognize their strengths and their ability to overcome this.
How you can help. A small change can help reduce the cycle of stigma
Stigma around substance use can prevent people from getting the help that they need. You can help by:
Listening with compassion and without judgment, so a person who uses drugs feels heard and understood
Speaking up when someone is being treated disrespectfully because of their substance use; and
Being kind with the words you use. Words Matter. Use people first language.
- Instead of “junkie” use “a person who uses drugs”
- Instead of “addict” use “people who have used drugs”
- Instead of “drug abuse” use “substance use”