Massachusetts General Hospital is committed to providing compassionate, evidence-based, responsible care to our patients experiencing pain. At the same time, we are dedicated to empowering our patients to have conversations with providers about their options for managing their pain.

What is an opioid?

An opioid is a prescription pain medicine used for severe pain not helped by other types of medications. When used carefully and with a health care provider's direct supervision, these medicines may help reduce pain.

Receptors in the body react to the opioids, determining the effect on the mind and body. Opioids can produce a feeling of euphoria, which in some cases can lead to recreational use and can ultimately result in addiction. Misuse of opioids can lead to overdose and can be fatal.

Mass General is committed to developing solutions to the opioid crises. The MGPO Opioid Task Force is a vital part of these efforts. We are helping to verify that clinicians prescribe medications safely by ensuring that they check the Massachusetts Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) for each prescription as required by law.

Which medications are opioids?

Also known as narcotics, prescription medications such as Oxycodone and Hydrocodone are opioids. Heroine is an illegal opioid.

The following are common opioids:

  • Codeine (only available in generic form)
  • Fentanyl (Actiq ®, Fentora ®, Abstral®, Duragesic®, Onsolis®)
  • Hydrocodone (Hysingla®, Zohydro ER ®)
  • Hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Lorcet, Lortab ®, Norco ®, Vicodin, Zydone®)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid®, Exalgo®)
  • Meperidine (Demerol®)
  • Methadone (Dolophine®, Methadose®, Diskets®)
  • Morphine (Astramorph™, Avinza®, Kadian®, MS Contin®, Oramorph® SR)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin®, Oxecta®, Roxicodone®, Xtampza® ER)
  • Oxycodone and acetaminophen (Percocet®, Endocet®, Roxicet®)
  • Oxycodone and naloxone (Targiniq ® ER)

Heroin is an illegal opioid that, because it is between two and four times stronger than morphine and takes quick effect, is highly addictive. The euphoria, or strong feeling of well-being and confidence, is short lived. The user is susceptible to overdose because the potency of the purchased heroin, frequently diluted with other dangerous substances, is not known. Withdrawal is very painful, and the impact on the human body is devastating.

Helping patients begin their journey of recovery takes both medical programs and sustained support. Our recovery coaches provide this crucial support which is grounded in shared experience and understanding.

Sarah E. Wakeman, MD
Medical director for Substance Use Disorders at Mass General

What you can do about the opioid crisis

  • Discuss pain management with your provider openly. Find out if there are alternatives to pain medication for treating your pain
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking opioids exactly. Never change the dose or the reason for taking the opioids unless you discuss it with your doctor
  • Don’t sell, share or trade opioids
  • Store your medication in a secure place known only to you, and dispose of your medication safely
  • Only get your medications from one health care provider

Mass General/MGPO Opioid Task Force

If you are experiencing a medical emergency, dial 911.

At Mass General, our priority is helping patients manage their pain while empowering them to have meaningful conversations with their providers about treatment options. We are committed to supporting patients with opioid substance use disorders.

To address the opioid epidemic, the Mass General/MGPO Opioid Task Force has:

  • Created guidelines with best practices for clinicians prescribing opioids for patients with acute or chronic pain
  • Developed hospital-wide communication and education strategies for patients, hospital staff and providers
  • Improved patient interventions, such as wider availability of intranasal naloxone (Narcan) to patients
  • Collaborated with the Substance Use Disorders initiative and the Center for Pain Medicine
  • Organized unused and expired prescription medication take-back programs

Substance Use Disorders Initiative

The Substance Use Disorders initiative comprises a team of clinicians and experts from across the hospital that provides addiction consult. Addiction treatment is offered in our community health centers. The staff at our health centers includes seven recovery coaches who have themselves known the challenges of addiction.

To assist our patients with substance use disorders, an addictions advanced practice nurse and social workers are ready to help in Mass General’s emergency department. In a pilot program, we are offering a special clinic for patients with substance use disorders needing treatment as they transition out of the emergency department or the hospital. The clinic provides short-term care and ultimately connects patients with resources and community services to ensure their continued path to recovery.

Additional resources

Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing (GRASP) is a compassionate recovery support group for those who have lost a loved one to substance abuse. The organization offers information, meetings and events for families and individuals with sharing and caring as a vital part of grief recovery.