What are Painkillers?

What are Painkillers? Painkillers are prescription drugs that relieve pain. Because pain pills are legal drugs, many people think they are not dangerous. Learn about the dangers, legal terms, and street names of commonly abused pain medication.

What are painkillers? Painkillers are legal prescription drugs that block messages of pain to the brain, helping to relieve suffering for people who suffer from chronic pain or have undergone surgery. They are also sometimes used improperly or abused, which can lead to serious consequences such as addiction or death.

Painkillers are not inherently bad; they improve the quality of life for many people who use them correctly and under a doctor’s care each year. In the short term, if used correctly and responsibly, they ease pain and cause drowsiness. But an overdose can slow breathing and cause death, and long term use or abuse can lead to addiction.

So, what are painkillers?  Painkillers are an opioid drug. They work by attaching to proteins called opioid receptors, which are found in the brain, spinal cord, and digestive system. This prevents messages of pain from reaching the brain.

Many people have the perception that, because painkillers are legal drugs, they are not harmful, but painkillers can be very dangerous. Painkillers are the most commonly abused prescription drug. Oxycontin and Vicodin are two common brands of prescription painkillers.

Some common types of painkillers include:

  • Codeine, sold under brand names such as Empirin with Codeine, Fiorinal with Codeine, Robitussin A-C, and Tylenol with Codeine. Its street names include Captain Cody, Cody, schoolboy, doors & fours, loads, and pancakes and syrup.
  • Fentanyl, sold under names like Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze. Its street names include Apache, China girl, China white, dance fever, friend, goodfella, jackpot, murder 8, TNT, and Tango and Cash.
  • Morphine, with legal names including Roxanol and Duramorph. It has street names like M, Miss Emma, monkey, and white stuff.
  • Opium, known as laudanum or paregoric. Its street names are big O, black stuff, block, gum, and hop.
  • The prescription painkiller brand Demerol may be known as demmies by painkiller abusers.
  • Vicodin is sometimes called vikes.
  • Percodan or Percocet has the street name percs.
  • Dilaudid is called juice or dillies.

Some other painkillers are oxycodone, meperidine, hydromorphone, hydrocodone, propoxyphene, and their brand names include Tylox, OxyContin, Darvon, Darvocet, Lortab, and Lorcet. Some other street names for painkillers are oxy 80s, oxycotton, oxycet, and hillbilly heroin.

OxyContin, a painkiller designed to treat long-term pain safely, has received attention because of the serious effects of its misuse. While it is normally meant to be a slow-release tablet, abusers may crush and snort it or dissolve and inject it, giving themselves a much higher dose than was intended. This can lead to a fatal overdose.

Painkillers are not appropriate for all patients, and doctors take a variety of factors into consideration when prescribing painkillers. Patients who have been addicted to another substance in the past, such as alcohol or drugs, should be honest about this with their doctors so the doctor can make the best possible choice in treating their pain.


National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Prescription Drug Abuse Chart [online]
Parents: The Anti-Drug, Conversations for Parents [online]
Parents: The Anti-Drug, Painkillers [online]
Michelle Meadows, Prescription Drug Use and Abuse, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA Consumer Magazine, September-October 2001 [online]

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