National Institute on Drug Abuse

 

About NIDA

Our mission is to advance science on the causes and consequences of drug use and addiction and to apply that knowledge to improve individual and public health.
 

This involves:

  • Strategically supporting and conducting basic and clinical research on drug use (including nicotine), its consequences, and the underlying neurobiological, behavioral, and social mechanisms involved.
  • Ensuring the effective translation, implementation, and dissemination of scientific research findings to improve the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders and enhance public awareness of addiction as a brain disorder.

Visit National Institute on Drug Abuse Website for more information

Brief Drug Overviews Go to NIDA Website for more information

What are opioids?

Opioids are naturally found in the opium poppy plant. Some opioid medications are made from this plant while others are made by scientists in labs. Opioids have been used for hundreds of years to treat pain, cough, and diarrhea.    


What are the most commonly used opioids?  


The most commonly used prescription opioids are oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, and morphine. Heroin is an opioid, but it is not a medication.  Fentanyl is a powerful prescription pain reliever, but it is sometimes added to heroin by drug dealers, causing doses so strong that people are dying from overdoses.


How do Opioids  Work?


Your brain is full of molecules called receptors that receive signals from other parts of the body. Opioids attach to receptors on nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord, and other organs. This allows them to block pain messages sent from the body to the brain, which is why they are prescribed for serious injuries or illnesses.  


When the opioids attach to the receptors, they also cause a large amount of dopamine to be released in the pleasure centers of the brain. Dopamine is the chemical responsible for making us feel reward and motivates our actions. The dopamine release caused by the opioids sends a rush of extreme pleasure and well-being throughout the body. 


 

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What are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines, a type of prescription sedative commonly prescribed for anxiety or to help with insomnia. Benzodiazepines (sometimes called "benzos") work to calm or sedate a person, by raising the level of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA in the brain. Common benzodiazepines include diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), and clonazepam (Klonopin), among others. 



Some Typical Street Names:

Z-Bars

Handlebars

Bicycle Part

Football

School Bus

Yellow Boys

White Boys / Girls



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What are Amphetamines?

Amphetamine is a powerful central nervous system stimulant and sympathomimetic.  Amphetamine [a drug used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, a sleep disorder]. 


 

Some Typical Street Names: 

Beans

Black Beauties

Dexies

Pep  Pills

Speed

Uppers

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Prescription opioid use is a risk factor for heroin use

Pooling data from 2002 to 2012, the incidence of heroin initiation was 19 times higher among those who reported prior non-medical pain reliever use than among those who did not (0.39 vs. 0.02 percent) (Muhuri et al., 2013).


A study of young, urban injection drug users interviewed in 2008 and 2009 found that 86 percent had used opioid pain relievers non-medically prior to using heroin, and their initiation into non-medical use was characterized by three main sources of opioids: family, friends, or personal prescriptions (Lankenau et al., 2012). 


This rate represents a shift from historical trends. Of people entering treatment for heroin addiction who began abusing opioids in the 1960s, more than 80 percent started with heroin. Of those who began abusing opioids in the 2000s, 75 percent reported that their first opioid was a prescription drug (Cicero et al., 2014). 


Examining national-level general population heroin data (including those in and not in treatment), nearly 80 percent of heroin users reported using prescription opioids prior to heroin (Jones, 2013; Muhuri et al., 2013). 


 

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Half of Opioid-Related Overdose Deaths Involve Fentanyl

 NIDA's Deputy Director, Dr. Wilson Compton discusses research, which is an analysis of federal mortality data published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that synthetic opioids, such as illicit fentanyl, have surpassed prescription opioids as the most common drug involved in overdose deaths in the U.S.    
 

Fentanyl is more than one drug

 SAMHSA's Dr. Christopher Jones explains how the illicit drug supply is constantly changing, and that the cheaper, dangerous opioid fentanyl is being added to a variety of drugs.  

What is heroin?

Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance taken from the seed pod of the various opium poppy plants grown in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico, and Colombia. 


Heroin can be a white or brown powder, or a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin. 


Some Typical Street Names:  

big H,

horse,

hell dust

smack

Brown Sugar

Junk

Mud

Dragon

Dope

Black Tar

Boy,  He

Chiba or Chiva



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What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It is a prescription drug that is also made and used illegally. Like morphine, it is a medicine that is typically used to treat patients with severe pain, especially after surgery. It is also sometimes used to treat patients with chronic pain who are physically tolerant to other opioids. Tolerance occurs when you need a higher and/or more frequent amount of a drug to get the desired effects.


In its prescription form, fentanyl is known by such names as Actiq®, Duragesic®, and Sublimaze®.


Some Typical Street Names:  

Apache 

China Girl

China White 

Dance Fever

Friend, 

Goodfellas

Jackpot

Murder 8

Tango & Cash


Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths in the United States. In 2017, 59 percent of opioid-related deaths involved fentanyl compared to 14.3 percent in 2010.

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What is Carfentanil?

 

What is carfentanil? Previously known by the trade-name Wildnil, this drug is a clone of fentanyl, another synthetic opioid analgesic. It was first synthesized by Janssen Pharmaceutical’s team of chemists in 1974. Because of its high potency, it was manufactured to be a large animal tranquilizer, which could immobilize large animals very quickly.


Think of a 15,000-pound wild African elephant, which is as much as 75 times the weight of a 200-pound adult man. It only takes very small quantities, as  little as a 10-milligram dose of this animal tranquilizer to sedate, or even kill, an animal of this size. This is what zoo veterinarians use.


Street Name:  

Serial Killer

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What Is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant drug made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. Although health care providers can use it for valid medical purposes, such as local anesthesia for some surgeries, recreational cocaine use is illegal. As a street drug, cocaine looks like a fine, white, crystal powder. Street dealers often mix it with things like cornstarch, talcum powder, or flour to increase profits. 


They may also mix it with other drugs such as the stimulant amphetamine, or synthetic opioids, including fentanyl. Adding synthetic opioids to cocaine is especially risky when people using cocaine don’t realize it contains this dangerous additive. Increasing numbers of overdose deaths among cocaine users might be related to this tampered cocaine. 


 

Some Typical Street Names:  

Bernie's Flakes

Big Bloke

Bernie's Gold Dust

Big Flake

Blanca

Crack

Flake

Gold Dust

Haven Dust

Have A Dust

Icing


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What is Methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug usually used as a white, bitter-tasting powder or a pill. Crystal methamphetamine is a form of the drug that looks like glass fragments or shiny, bluish-white rocks. It is chemically similar to amphetamine [a drug used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, a sleep disorder]. 


 

Some Typical Street Names:  

Speed

Crank

Tweak

Chalk

Tina

Gak


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