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Other opiates/opioids Category: Opioids

You may hear of prescription substances such as fentanyl, oxycontin or morphine.

Opioid medications have essential roles across health care settings for the treatment of pain and for end of life care. These medicines are generally only available through prescription from a medical professional and will not be available over the counter. 

Painkillers are available in a wide range of forms of various colours.The most common are tablets, capsules and syrups/linctus, and as solutions for injection but they can also come in other forms such as sprays and skin patches. 

Prescription opioid medications are prescribed for medical conditions such as cancer and chronic pain. Even though these medicines are legal, they can still be highly addictive and can cause issues for some people. This is why they are subject to strict regulatory controls.

Short-term effects

Different products vary in how powerful they are, and when referencing effects, we are not listing all their medical uses

Long-term effects

Other risks


All opioid substances have the potential to cause issues for some people including those purchased over the counter in chemists. People can become physically and psychologically dependent, so your body could experience cravings, increased tolerance and feelings to keeping using or that you cannot cope without using the substance. Some people may feel intense pain if they started to use for the purpose of pain.

With continued use, people can develop a tolerance over time, so more is needed to get the same effect. It can be very difficult to stop taking these medicines. If you take them for a long-term condition, you should think about other types of pain relief and discuss your treatment plan with your prescriber. One option is to ask your doctor to refer you to a pain management clinic to review your options, but this will be based on your individual health plan. 

It should also be recognised that not everyone will develop an issue with these medicines; this will be for discussion with your medical team.


Withdrawal is less severe if doses are reduced gradually.  Anyone who has been frequently using, taking high doses or purchasing off the illicit market should consider the support of a medical professional to help them reduce their use.

Opioid withdrawal symptoms include aches, tremor, diarrhoea, sweating and chills and muscular spasms. You may have sleep problems, cravings and mood swings. Withdrawal symptoms can be different for each person and for some people they could be more serious than others. If you are pregnant, it is important to consult medics if you are choosing to reduce or stop use. 

What help is available?

Talk with your prescriber or GP about any concerns you may have.

For people who are concerned about their use of opioid medications, support is available, don't be afraid to reach out for help if you use prescribed medication or products sourced online or from an illegal market. 

The HSE Drug and Alcohol Helpline is available Monday – Friday from 9:30 – 5:30 on 1800 459 459 or email

Free services are available in each community nationally and can be found on These services can help you identify a support and treatment plan tailored to your needs. 

Other options include




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