Taking opioids (painkillers) not as prescribed or taking street opioids can lead to addiction, overdose and even death.
Learn about opioids and how to reduce the risk of overdose.
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Doctors, nurse practitioners and dentists prescribe opioids to treat moderate to severe pain. You should only use medication that is prescribed to you and as directed by your health care provider.
Some commonly prescribed opioids include:
- oxycodone (brand name Percocet)
- hydromorphone brand name Dilaudid)
- novel synthetic opioids (for example, etonitazepyne, isotonitazene)
Find help for risky opioid use
Opioids are drugs that can cause physical and psychological (mental) dependence, whether the drugs are prescribed or not.
Opioids can cause a euphoric high feeling, which can be pleasurable, and use of opioids, especially opioids obtained without a prescription, carries risks like accidental poisoning (overdose) or even death.
Some signs that opioid use may be having negative effects on the health of you or someone you know include:
- experiencing cravings
- physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms (such as feeling agitated, restless, chills, nausea, abnormal yawning)
- increased tolerance
- using over a longer period or using more than planned
- spending a lot of time and effort getting, using, and recovering from opioids
- giving up activities that were once enjoyable
- continuing to use opioids despite experiencing harmful effects
The province is ensuring that Ontarians receive the care they need, when and where they need it and the supports necessary to address their addiction struggles and live fulfilling lives.
There are options and services in Ontario for getting help to stop risky opioid use. Ontario’s recovery-oriented approach to dealing with those struggling with addiction is focused on breaking down barriers to accessing treatment and closing gaps in care.
Through the province’s $3.8 billion investment into the Roadmap to Wellness, Ontario is expanding bed-based and outpatient mental health treatment options that address the root causes, help build resilience, and set up the patient on the right path to recovery.
ConnexOntario provides free and confidential health services for people experiencing problems with alcohol and drugs, mental illness or gambling by connecting them with services in their community that best match their treatment needs. These include outpatient day/evening programs and bed-based support, which requires individuals to live in residence at treatment centres. You can connect with someone for information and referral to services in your community 24 hours a day, seven days a week by:
On the ConnexOntario website you can find locations and hours for some of these services and information on:
- Rapid Access Addiction Medicine clinics
- no appointment or referral is needed to get help, including prescriptions for opioid agonist therapies (such as suboxone or methadone) and counselling referrals if you don’t have a primary care provider
Register with Breaking Free for a free and confidential recovery support program where you learn positive coping skills and proven behaviour change techniques that can help reduce risky opioid use.
If chronic pain plays a role in your opioid use, you may be a candidate for a referral to one of Ontario’s 18 chronic pain clinics. Talk to your doctor or nurse practitioner to see if this would be a good option for you.
If you need help finding a doctor, nurse practitioner or other health care provider, visit Health811 online or call 811 to speak with a registered nurse available 24 hours a day to help with any non-emergency health matter and find local services in your area.
Ontario will continue to invest at record levels so that Ontarians can go through their recovery journey with a full continuum of care that ensures they feel supported every step of the way.
How to reduce the risk of an overdose with prescribed opioids
Take medication as prescribed
- avoid taking more than your prescribed dose of opioids
- don’t give anyone your prescription opioids, or take opioids prescribed to someone else
- mixing drugs, alcohol and/or other prescribed medications can be risky
- ask your doctor or health care provider - or contact your local Public Health Unit or harm reduction program - to find out if it is safe to mix your medications before doing so
Storage and disposal safety
- If you decide not to use all the prescribed opioids you have, take them to a pharmacy to dispose of them safely.
- Consider locking up your opioids to keep them away from children, youth and other adults in your home.
Street drugs can come in different strengths and qualities. This can be especially risky for more powerful street opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil, as well as newer synthetic opioids which can be up to 20 times stronger than fentanyl.
You cannot see, smell or taste fentanyl or carfentanil. There is no way for you to know if they have been added to another drug, and you should not assume your dealer knows either. Dealers can also unknowingly contaminate other drugs if they’ve handled fentanyl or carfentanil.
Street drugs can also contain substances such as depressants, stimulants, psychoactive drugs, or fillers used to increase their volume (including starches, sugars, or medications that can be toxic to humans). These added substances can lead to harm by changing overdose symptoms and reacting differently to overdose responses.
Public Health Units send out alerts when potentially toxic drugs, or drugs containing unexpected substances that cause more drug poisonings, are found in the local community.
How to reduce the risk of an overdose with street drugs
Ontario supports evidence-based harm reduction by building on a recovery-oriented model to treatment.
The province believes narcotic transition services that provide treatment options like methadone or suboxone have a place within a fully formed continuum of care. Ontario also believes that these treatments must also include a plan to help further the patient on their road to recovery.
Get help with quitting
- Find a program in your area that provides an outpatient or inpatient treatment option that matches your needs.
Get help with harm reduction
- Find a Consumption and Treatment Services (CTS) site near you, which provides supervised drug consumption and overdose prevention services.
- Find the closest Needle Exchange and Harm Reduction Program by contacting your local Public Health Unit or the Ontario Harm Reduction Distribution Program.
- Naloxone is a drug that can temporarily reverse an opioid overdose. If using opioids, it is important to know:
- how to recognize an opioid overdose
- how to use a naloxone kit
- where to get a free naloxone kit
It is also important to know that even if you reverse an opioid overdose using naloxone, you should still call 911 for emergency help. A person can overdose again when the naloxone wears off, even if they haven’t used more drugs, because the drug may still be in their body.
- Try to avoid mixing drugs, alcohol or other prescribed medications. Speak to a health care provider, your local Public Health Unit or harm reduction program first to confirm if it’s safe to do so.
Note: This information is intended to reduce the harms related to drug use, including deaths. Not using drugs is your best defense.