What are opioids?
Opioids are drugs that are usually prescribed to treat severe pain. They’re psychoactive drugs, meaning they act in our brains to change our awareness of pain, as well as slow down our breathing, heart rate, thoughts, and actions. There are many different opioids, including morphine, heroin, hydromorphone (Dilaudid) and codeine (in products like Tylenol 3).
How they’re used
People use opioids for a variety of reasons. While they can be helpful for pain relief, some people use them for relief from anxiety or to experience a “high”. Others use prescription opioids (like methadone, buprenorphine/naloxone) to help reduce dependence on other opioids.
How they affect us
The effects of opioids can be different for different people. In the beginning, most people will feel relaxed, drowsy, and calm. But as use (and the risk of withdrawal) increases, people may feel unwell and experience anxiety and insomnia. Repeatedly using the drug to feel relaxed, reduce anxiety, or for reasons other than as prescribed may harm our health or relationships and lead to dependence.
Like all drugs, opioids have the potential to be harmful. Even a single use of an opioid by a person who’s never used one before can lead to serious harms like infections and diseases from sharing needles, overdose, or even death.
Using prescription opioids for reasons other than the prescribed medical purpose can be dangerous. Buying and using drugs from unknown sources can also be dangerous. Opioids from sources other than a pharmacy or healthcare provider may not be legitimate pharmaceutical pills, even if they look like they are. These drugs are often impure and unpredictable in strength, making them very dangerous.
Opioid use can also lead to dependence—that’s when a person is so used to the drug being in their body that when it’s taken away they experience severe withdrawal symptoms like uneasiness, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and craving for the drug. Tolerance can also develop with continued use of an opioid, which means that increasingly large doses are needed to get the same effects. This also puts the person at increased risk of overdose and death.
Lowering the risk
Always follow the dosage instructions—using a drug more often than prescribed can be dangerous, so watch how much you use. Check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist about the effects of a prescribed opioid on physical and mental functioning. If you choose to use illegal drugs, start with a small amount whenever you get a new supply, clean your hands, drug using supplies and injection site, and never use while alone. Always have naloxone on hand whenever using—it can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and allow time for medical help to arrive.
Signs of an overdose
Signs of opioid overdose include:
- The person can’t be woken up
- Slow, irregular breathing
- Slow or no pulse
- Gurgling sounds or choking
- Blue lips or nails
- Pale, cool skin
If someone you know is showing signs of an opioid overdose, call 911 right away.
Visit http://www.nsnaloxone.com/ for more information on Naloxone and opioids.
When to seek help
Using opioids is a problem when it negatively affects your life or the lives of others. Speak with your healthcare provider if you feel your use of opioids has become a problem for you or others.
The two main treatment options for opioid addiction are professional counselling and opioid agonist therapies (using methadone or buprenorphine/naloxone). The combination of both treatments is often used and is more beneficial than one method alone.
Mental Health 101
Knowledge is power. This series of free online tutorials is a starting point for learning about mental health. You can come away with a greater understanding of the mental health concern you are interested in knowing more about.
IWK Mental Health and Addictions Program
The IWK Mental Health and Addictions Program provides specialized care throughout the province for children and youth up until their 19th birthday within a patient and family...
The Marguerite Centre
The Marguerite Centre provides a holistic, women-centred approach to recovery from substance misuse and gambling addiction. We are an inclusive, safe, non-judgmental...
Eskasoni Mental Health
Eskasoni Mental Health Services (EMHS) provides a wide range of services to the Mi’kmaq people of Eskasoni, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The Tui'kn Residential School Survivor...
Direction 180 is a community-based, opioid treatment program located in the North End of Halifax, Nova Scotia. This non-profit organization has been running since 2001 as a program of the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Center.
Caregivers Nova Scotia
Caregivers Nova Scotia provides free programs, services, information, and advocacy for family and friend caregivers. We are dedicated to providing recognition and practical assistance to friends and family giving care.
Ally Centre of Cape Breton
The Ally Centre of Cape Breton is dedicated to preventing the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C in the community and supporting those who have been infected and/or affected by...
211 is a free, confidential information and referral service that can connect you to thousands of programs and services offered by local community groups, nonprofits and government departments across Nova Scotia, 24/7.
Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services - Mental Health Programs and Services
Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services (CFMWS) is responsible for administering Non-Public Property (NPP) on behalf of the Chief of the Defence Staff and for delivering...
Veterans Affairs Canada Assitance Service
Veterans Affairs provide targeted services and benefits to improve well-being including support and services related to your physical and mental health and wellness.The VAC...
Take Home Naloxone Program
The program provides opioid overdose prevention/nalaxone administration training and free take home nalaxone kits to Nova Scotians. The aim is to prevent opioid overdoses and...
NA is a nonprofit fellowship or society of people for whom drugs had become a major problem. We are recovering addicts who meet regularly to help each other stay clean. This is a program of complete abstinence from all drugs. There is only one...
Mental Health and Addictions Wellness Program
The Wellness Clinic is an ongoing, client-focused program that is based on what the client or group of clients want to work on that day. There is no waitlist or referral...
Health Psychology offers psychological interventions for those with chronic and acute health conditions. The main focus is on the patient's mental and emotional reaction to an illness or their recovery from an illness.
Wellness Court Programs are specialty or problem-solving courts, where a team of professionals helps treat the issues contributing to the individual coming into conflict with...
Geriatric Psychiatry Acute Inpatient Unit
The Geriatric Psychiatry Acute Inpatient Unit is for individuals over the age of 65 with a new onset of mental illness or for individuals of any age with dementia and complicated medical and/or psychological symptoms.
Geriatric Psychiatry Outpatient Program
Seniors mental health services provide assessment, consultation and treatments to:
- seniors aged 65 and older for a new onset of mental health challenges
- individuals of...
Mood Disorders Clinic
The mood disorders clinic provides consultations for individuals with severe mood disorders such as possible bipolar disorder. This is a specialized service that provides diagnosis and treatment of severe mood disorders.
First Responders Assist
This service will offer short-term counselling and supportive services, including follow up if needed, for first responders and their families impacted by the tragedies of...
Opioid Use Disorder Program (OUDP)
The Opioid Use Disorder Program offers opioid maintenance therapy (methadone and buprenorphine/naloxone) and programming to individuals with an addiction to opioids. From a...
Inpatient Withdrawal Management Unit
The inpatient treatment program provides medical, supervised withdrawal management and support to individuals that require treatment and support to manage their withdrawal...
Driving While Impaired (DWI) Program / Alcohol Ingnition Interlock Program (AIIP)
If your driver’s license has been suspended or revoked for an alcohol or drug-related offence, you are required by the Registry of Motor Vehicles to attend the DWI Program in...
Adult Addictions Day Treatment Program
The Addictions Day Treatment Program is a two-week group program for individuals that require a more intensive and daily treatment option.
Individuals may benefit from this type of program if they recently left an inpatient treatment program (i.e...
Seniors Mental Health Services
Seniors mental health services provide assessment, consultation and treatments to:
- seniors aged 65 and older for a new onset of mental health challenges;
- individuals of...
School Mental Health (SchoolsPlus)
The school mental health clinicians provide individual and group therapy, mental health and addictions education for school staff and consultation services. Clinicians are on...
Operational Stress Injury (OSI) Clinic
The Operational Stress Injury (OSI) Clinic provides mental health services to Veterans, eligible members of the Canadian Forces (CF), RCMP members and former members, who have...
Provincial Mental Health and Addictions Crisis Line
The Provincial Mental Health and Addictions Crisis Line provides crisis intervention for children, youth and adults experiencing a mental health crisis or mental distress.
Inpatient Mental Health Services
Inpatient mental health services are available for those who cannot be safely assessed, diagnosed and stabilized in the community.
First Nations Services
Mental Health clinicians work as part of the first nations health care team in several first nations communities. The Mental Health Clinician provides assessment, diagnosis...
Crossroads Cape Breton is community organized to support people living with mental illness in reclaiming and enhancing their lives. People are referred to as “members” because...
Community Support Service (Adults)
The Community Support Teams for Adults/Community Supports for Adults supports individuals living with persistent mental illness to develop and maintain a safe, satisfying...
Adult Community Mental Health and Addictions Services
Community Mental Health and Addictions includes a team of mental health and addictions professionals who provide services on an outpatient basis. The team provides assessment...
Child and Adolescent Services
Child and Adolescent Services/Child Youth and Family/Child and Adolescent Outpatient Clinical Services provide mental health and addiction services to children and youth...