What are Opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs that include both prescription pain relievers like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine, as well as illegal drugs like heroin. They are derived from the opium poppy plant or synthetically manufactured to produce similar effects. Opioids are known for their powerful pain-relieving properties, making them effective for managing severe pain but also carrying a high risk of addiction and overdose.

What are the effects/side effects?

The effects and side effects of opioid usage can vary depending on factors such as the specific opioid used, the dosage, the individual’s tolerance, and whether the opioid is used as prescribed or misused. Here are some common effects and side effects associated with opioid usage:

Therapeutic Effects:

Pain relief: Opioids are effective for managing moderate to severe pain, such as post-surgery or cancer-related pain.

Side Effects:

Drowsiness and sedation: Opioids can cause drowsiness, making concentration difficult.

Constipation: Opioids slow the digestive system, leading to constipation.

Nausea and vomiting: Some people experience nausea and vomiting with opioids.

Respiratory depression: Opioids can slow breathing, especially at high doses or when combined with other depressants.

Itching: Opioids can cause mild to severe itching.

Hormonal effects: Long-term use can affect hormones, leading to issues like decreased libido and irregular menstruation.

Addiction and dependence: Opioids have a high potential for addiction and dependence.

How does it appear?

When a person is using opioids, they may exhibit various physical and behavioural signs. Some common physical and behavioural indicators include:

Physical Signs:

Constricted Pupils: Opioids can cause the pupils to become smaller than usual, even in dim lighting.

Sedation or Drowsiness: Opioids can make a person appear drowsy or sedated, with slowed movements and speech.

Slurred Speech: Speech may be slower or slurred due to the sedating effects of opioids.

Itching: Opioids can cause itching, which may result in scratching or rubbing of the skin.

Nausea or Vomiting: Some individuals may experience nausea or vomiting as a side effect of opioid use.

Behavioural Signs:

Euphoria: Opioids can induce feelings of euphoria, which may manifest as unusually elevated mood or happiness.

Lack of Coordination: Opioids can impair coordination and motor skills, leading to unsteady movements or clumsiness.

Social Withdrawal: Some individuals may become withdrawn or isolated when using opioids, preferring to be alone or avoiding social interactions.

Mood Swings: Opioid use can cause mood swings, with rapid changes in emotions or behaviour.

Can you test for it?

Various methods are available to test for the presence of opioids in a person’s system. These tests are commonly used in medical, employment, and legal contexts.

Urine Tests: Urine tests are common for detecting recent opioid use. Opioids can typically be detected in urine for 1-3 days after use.

Blood Tests: Opioids can usually be detected in blood for a shorter period than in urine, often within hours to a few days after use.

Saliva Tests: Opioids can typically be detected in saliva, usually within a few hours to a couple of days after use.

Hair Tests: Hair tests are useful for detecting a history of opioid use. Opioids can be detected in hair for a longer period than in other samples, usually 90 days – 12 months.

Opioids, known for their potent pain-relieving properties, are often seen as essential in medical settings for managing severe pain. However, their potential for misuse and addiction requires a comprehensive understanding of their effects, side effects, and appearance of use. Recognizing the signs of opioid use and the available testing methods is crucial for addressing misuse and ensuring safe use. Education and responsible practices are key in navigating the complexities of opioid use, especially when used outside of prescribed medical treatment. By staying informed and promoting responsible use, individuals can better manage the risks associated with opioids, ultimately contributing to their overall well-being and health.

Impact in the Workplace

The misuse of opioids can significantly impact an individual’s well-being, with implications that extend to various facets of their life, including their professional performance. Research conducted by Roche, Pidd, and Kostadinov (2016) highlighted a notable correlation between drug abuse and increased workplace absenteeism, resulting in an annual loss of approximately 2.5 million workdays. This substantial figure translates to a significant financial setback for the workforce.

To address this issue effectively, workplaces are encouraged to establish comprehensive Drug and Alcohol (DOA) policies that incorporate education, prevention, and various testing methods tailored to opioids. At Brassets Group, we are passionately committed to collaborating with clients in developing and implementing robust Drug and Alcohol Management strategies that include the utilisation of these testing methods. These measures aim to ensure a safer and more productive work environment, safeguarding the long-term health and performance of employees.


Roche, A., Pidd, K. and Kostadinov, V. (2016), Alcohol- and drug-related absenteeism: a costly problem. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 40: 236-238. https://doi.org/10.1111/1753-6405.12414