The most powerful weapon for preventing prescription opioid misuse—for yourself or loved ones—is knowledge. Get the facts on what opioids are and do, the dangers of opioid misuse, as well as a better understanding how to manage and dispose of opioids safely.

Frederick County Health Department - Opioids



  • Opioids are drugs that are commonly prescribed by physicians for a serious injury, after surgery, or to help relieve chronic pain.
  • When taken exactly as directed by a medical professional, opioids are safe and can manage pain effectively.
  • Opioids work by attaching to proteins called opioid receptors in our brain, spinal cord, and other areas of the body. When attached to receptors in certain parts of the brain, they dull the sensation of pain and also cause feelings of relaxation and euphoria.

There are three categories of opioids: Natural opiates, Semi-synthetic opioids and Fully-synthetic opioids

  • Natural opiates contain chemical compounds that are found in the opium poppy. Natural opiates include morphine, codeine and thebaine.
  • Semi-synthetic opioids result from chemical modifications of natural opiates. Semi-synthetic opioids include hydromorphone, hydrocodone, oxycodone (prescription drug name is OxyContin), and heroin.
  • Fully-synthetic opioids are completely man-made. Fully-synthetic opioids include fentanyl, pethidine, levorphanol, methadone, tramadol, and dextropropoxyphene.

  • The dangers of prescription drugs (Rx), including opioids, can lead to addiction, overdose, and death.
  • More than two-thirds of people admitted into substance use treatment programs first reported using a prescription opioid by age 25.
  • 4 OUT OF 5 HEROIN USERS reported they started out misusing prescription medications.
  • 1 OUT OF 4 TEENS abused or misused a prescription medication
  • Non-addictive painkillers like Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen may be just as effective as prescription opioids in reducing certain types of pain.

  • Opioids target the brain's reward system by flooding the body with dopamine. Dopamine is the brain chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure. The overstimulation of dopamine produced by opioid drugs causes feelings of euphoria which can lead to opioid misuse.
  • There are both, immediate and long-term risks of prescription medicine abuse. In the short-term, misusing opioid drugs can result in overdose which can be fatal, as can mixing prescription medicine with over-the-counter (OTC) medications and/or alcohol.
  • In the long-term, prescription opioids (pain relievers) and other prescription medicines have been proven to be addictive. Relying on prescription medicines at a young age to help “manage” life can establish a lifelong pattern of dependency and prevents the adoption of important coping skills.
  • The use of someone else’s medications is not only illegal but also dangerous. When used as prescribed, prescription drugs can be safe, but misusing them has many health risks including addiction, overdose and even death. Safeguard your medications with three simple steps: Monitor. Secure. Dispose.

3 Steps to Protect Your Loved Ones, Yourself and Your Future:
Step 1: Monitor

  • Note how many pills are in each prescription medicine bottle or pill packet
  • Keep track of refills – yours as well as others'
  • For children be sure to control and monitor dosages on all prescription medications
  • Make friends and relatives – especially grandparents –aware of the risks
Step 2: Secure
  • Keep all medication – prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) – in a safe place, such as a locked cabinet
  • Secure your medicine the way you would valuables in your home (not in a medicine cabinet)
  • Tell relatives to lock up their medications and keep them in a safe place
  • Talk to your friends and family about securing their medication
Step 3: Dispose
  • Disposing of expired or unused medicine is critical in helping to protect your friends, family and yourself
  • Take inventory of all of the medicine in your home
  • Unless the directions on the package say otherwise, do not flush medications down the drain or toilet
  • Securely discard expired or unused prescription and OTC medications by:
    • Participate in a local Drug Take Back Day
    • Use your local medication drop box locations.
  • You can also dispose of unused or expired medicines at home by:
    • Removing any personal information from bottles or packages
    • Mixing the medications with an undesirable substance, like used coffee grounds or used kitty litter and discard
    • Using a medicine disposal packet made available by your local pharmacy to safely deactivate and destroy opioid medications
  • Download the Drop Box Locations info card here