Opioids in Alaska

About Opioids

What are opioids?

Opioids include many prescription pain relievers. Heroin, an illegal drug, is also an opioid. Fentanyl is a legally prescribed opioid that is also frequently produced illegally in the black market.

Made from the opium poppy plant, or produced artificially to have a similar effect, all opioids affect the brain’s regions that produce feelings of reward. Opioids activate the brain’s opioid receptors and reduce pain by attaching these receptors, reducing the perception of pain.

How does opioid addiction develop?

Over the course of use, a physical tolerance can develop and a person will need to take more of the drug to feel the same effects, or to feel functional. This is called dependence.

To intensify the effects, a person may begin to use the drug more often than prescribed, or in ways other than prescribed. This misuse can lead to addiction. A person suffering from addiction can make decisions that seem reckless and have serious consequences because addiction affects the parts of the brain responsible for decision-making and self-control.

A person who has become addicted to prescription opioids may switch to heroin or supplement with heroin because it can be readily obtained, costs less, and is easier to prepare for injection. Opioids produced on the black market can be especially dangerous and have varying and unpredictable potency.

Taking too much of an opioid, or taking it in ways other than prescribed, increases the risks of addiction and lead to overdose and death.

Types of Opioids

Prescription opioids

Of people currently using heroin, 80% report that they started using opioids with prescription painkillers. Here’s a list of some commonly prescribed opioids. There are many others, so be sure to ask if your medication is an opioid:

  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl (Duragesic)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Methadone Morphine (MS Contin, Kadian)
  • Oxymorphone (Opana)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
  • Tramadol (Ultram)

Learn more about non-opioid pain management options and opioid safety at the prevention at home page.

Opioid pills produced on the black market may look like familiar labels, but may include unpredictable inclusions, including fentanyl, a more potent opioid.


Heroin is a synthesized type of morphine, 50 times more powerful than morphine, the original manufactured opioid product. On the street, it is also known as: China white, Black tar, Thunder, Chiva. It is produced on the black market and may include other substances, such as fentanyl.


Fentanyl is also a type of synthesized morphine, and is 100 times more powerful than morphine. Its brand names are Duragesic, Actiq, Lazanda, and Oralet. On the street, it is known as Apache, China Town, TNT, and China Girl. When produced in the black market, potency can be unpredictable. Just consuming two miligrams is considered lethal. Often times, this substance is illegally mixed with other substances like prescription opioids, cocaine, and methamphetamine. To the unknowing user this can result in severe health complications, including death.