Prescription painkillers are powerful drugs that interfere with the nervous system’s transmission of the nerve signals we perceive as pain. Most painkillers also stimulate portions of the brain associated with pleasure. Thus, in addition to blocking pain, they produce a “high.”

The most powerful prescription painkillers are called opioids, which are opium-like1 compounds. They are manufactured to react on the nervous system in the same way as drugs derived from the opium poppy, like heroin. The most commonly abused opioid painkillers include oxycodone, hydrocodone, meperidine, hydromorphone and propoxyphene.

Oxycodone has the greatest potential for abuse and the greatest dangers. It is as powerful as heroin and affects the nervous system the same way. Oxycodone is sold under many trade names, such as Percodan, Endodan, Roxiprin, Percocet, Endocet, Roxicet and OxyContin. It comes in tablet form.

Hydrocodone is used in combination with other chemicals and is available in prescription pain medications as tablets, capsules and syrups. Trade names include Anexsia, Dicodid, Hycodan, Hycomine, Lorcet, Lortab, Norco, Tussionex and Vicodin. Sales and production of this drug have increased significantly in recent years, as has its illicit use.

Meperidine (brand name Demerol) and hydromorphone (Dilaudid) come in tablets and propoxyphene (Darvon) in capsules, but all three have been known to be crushed and injected, snorted or smoked. Darvon, banned in the UK since 2005, is among the top ten drugs reported in drug abuse deaths in the US. Dilaudid, considered eight times more potent than morphine, is often called “drug store heroin” on the streets.

“At the age of 20, I became an addict to a narcotic,2 which began with a prescription following a surgery. In the weeks that followed [the operation] in addition to orally abusing the tablet, crushing it up enabled me to destroy the controlled release mechanism and to swallow or snort the drug. It can also be injected to produce a feeling identical to shooting heroin. The physical withdrawal from the drug is nothing short of agonizing pain.” —James

  1. 1. opium: a brownish, gummy extract from the opium poppy.
  2. 2. narcotic: a drug affecting the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), which can cause dizziness, lack of coordination and unconsciousness.


PAINKILLERS: Generic Name Oxycodone Propoxyphene Hydromorphone Meperidine Hydrocodone Brand Name OxyContin Percodan Percocet Roxiprin Roxicet Endodan Endocet Anexsia Dicodid Hycodan Hycomine Lorcet Lortab Norco Tussionex Vicodin Darvon Dilaudid Demerol Street Name Oxy 80s oxycotton oxycet hillbilly heroin percs perks pain killer vikes hydros pinks footballs pink footballs yellow footballs 65’s Ns juice, dillies drug street heroin demmies pain killer


  1. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Fact Sheet on Prescription Drug Abuse
  2. “Older Americans fight drug abuse,” 3 Jul 2008, International Herald Tribune
  3. “Methadone rises as a painkiller with big risks,” 17 Aug 2008, New York Times
  4. “Nurofen Plus to remain on sale,” 6 Aug 2008
  5. “Warning on painkillers,” 4 May 2007, Financial Times
  6. 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
  7. “Depressants,” U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and SAMHSA’s National Clearinghouse for Alcohol & Drug Information
  8. ABC of drugs,
  9. A Brief History of Opium,
  10. OxyContin Information, National Clearinghouse on Alcohol and Drug Information
  11. OxyContin: Prescription Drug Abuse Advisory, Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT)
  12. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Info Facts: Prescription Pain and Other Medications
  13. National Institute on Drug Abuse Research Report, “Prescription Drugs, Abuse and Addiction 2001”
  14. “Some Commonly Prescribed Medications: Use and Consequences,” National Institute on Drug Abuse
  15. National Institute of Justice, Drug and Alcohol Use and Related Matters Among Arrestees, 2003
  16. U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, “Drug Facts: OxyContin,” and “Prescription Drug Facts & Figures
  17. “New Report Reveals More Than 1000 People Died in Illegal Fentanyl Epidemic of 2005-2007,” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
  18. “Teen OTC & Prescription Drug Abuse,”