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Information About Opioids

Important facts to know when taking opioids

Opioids are an effective option for pain relief after surgery or for the treatment of a chronic condition. However, they can also lead to addictive behavior and substance abuse problems in adolescents if not properly managed.

Children’s Mercy is dedicated to providing education and resources to help patients, parents, and providers to safely prescribe, use, and dispose of opioids.

What are opioids?

Opioids are a group of pain control medicines. They are also sometimes called narcotics. Opioids are prescribed by a doctor specifically for each patient's need. There are many types of opioids, including these brand names:

  • Hydrocodone (hi dro CO done)

  • Oxycodone (ocy CO done)

  • Morphine (MOR feen)

  • Hydromorphone (hi dro MOR fone)

  • Fentanyl (FIN tin il)

  • Methadone (METH a done)

  • Buprenorphine (bu PRENOR feen)

  • Codeine (CO deen)

  • Meperidine (me PER I deen)

  • Propoxyphene (pro POXY feen)

  • Percocet (PER co cet)

  • Norco (NOR co)

  • Vicodin (VI co din

  • Dilaudid (di LAU did)

  • Suboxone (sub OX own)

  • Subutex (SUB u tex)

  • Darvocet (DAR vo set)

  • Demerol (DIM er ol)

Opioids work best when used with other non-medicine treatments for pain. These include exercise, massage, heat, ice, relaxation techniques, deep breathing, and distraction.

Opioids are sometimes used to treat your child's moderate to severe pain. Each child responds differently to opioids. It's important to know about side effects.

Common opioid side effects


  • constipation

  • dizziness

  • nausea

  • vomiting

  • confusion

  • drowsiness

  • itching

Serious opioid side effects

Signs of respiratory depression include:

  • trouble breathing or a slow breathing rate

  • trouble speaking

  • irritability

  • confusion

The risk for respiratory depression increases when an opioid is taken with certain medications such as central nervous system (CNS) depressants or with more than one opioid.



  • Only your child should use an opioid that was prescribed by their medical provider.

  • Do not let anyone else take this medicine.

  • Know where this medicine is at all times. Keep a count of how much you have so you will always know how much is left.

  • Only use this medicine when needed. Opioids can be addictive and lead to permanent illness, injury, and even death.

  • Watch for "seekers" who are looking to steal opioid medicines. This could be siblings, relative, friends, neighbors or strangers.

  • Tell you child's teacher, school nurse, coach, athletic trainer, babysitter, and others that your child is taking this medicine. Tell them what side effects to watch for.

  • Give your child's school a note from you and your child's doctor if the medicine is to be given at school by the school nurse.

  • Taking this medicine with alcohol can be dangerous. It can cause drowsiness and poor breathing. Some cold medicines, cough syrups, and mouthwashes contain alcohol.

  • Check with the doctor or pharmacist before giving any over-the-counter medicines.

  • Tell the doctor or pharmacist if your child is taking any other medicines or herbal supplements.

  • Call for emergency help if:

    • Your child becomes very sleepy or is difficult to wake up.

    • Your child's breathing slows or stops.

    • Call the Poison Control Center at 1 (800) 222-1222 if your child takes too much of this medicine or someone else takes the medicine.

Transitioning off opioids


  • Get your child off the opioid medicine as soon as you can. This will make it less likely that your child's body will become dependent on opioids.

  • The medicine should be weaned as recommended by your child's medical provider if the medicines are taken consistently for more than a week and the opioid is no longer needed for pain.

  • If you find prescribed opioids are not working as well after a while, it is likely that your child is developing a tolerance to the medicine. Your child is probably not having more pain. The longer opioid medicines are used, the more a person's body depends on it. Tolerance and dependence can happen even when the medicines are only used as prescribed.

  • Talk to your doctor about transitioning your child to a combination of acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

  • If you have any questions, be sure to ask your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist.

  • Follow the instructions given by your child's doctor. Opioid withdrawal can happen if taken longer than 7 to 10 days and stopped all at once. Opioid withdrawal is not life-threatening; however, it can be very uncomfortable.

    Call your child's doctor if your child develops the following symptoms of opioid withdrawal:

  • hot and cold flashes

  • sweating

  • goosebumps

  • fatigue

  • muscle aches

  • yawning

  • runny nose

  • difficulty sleeping

  • abdominal pain

  • nausea

  • agitation

  • diarrhea

  • vomiting

  • fast heart rate