Learn about opioids

  • What are opioids?
  • How do people get prescriptions for opioids?
  • Why are we concerned about fentanyl?
  • How opioids can affect you
  • Using opioids when you're pregnant
  • Get help

Opioid-related deaths are a leading public health and safety concern in Yukon.

  1. What are opioids?

    Opioids are a family of drugs intended to treat pain. You can get a prescription for them or buy them illegally on the street. Opioids are a family of drugs that include:

    • codeine;
    • fentanyl;
    • morphine;
    • oxycodone; and
    • diacetylmorphine.

    Most of the harm people who use drugs are experiencing is due to fentanyl. This is because it may be hidden in other substances, and you cannot taste or smell it. This increases the risk of overdose. Fentanyl is:

    • the size of a grain of salt;
    • extremely potent; and
    • can cause brain damage or even kill you.

  2. How do people get prescriptions for opioids?

    Doctors and dentists may prescribe them for conditions, such as:

    • acute short-term moderate to severe pain;
    • chronic long-term pain;
    • moderate to severe diarrhea; and
    • moderate to severe cough.

    Prescriptions opioid medications are available as:

    • syrups;
    • tablets;
    • capsules;
    • nasal sprays;
    • skin patches;
    • suppositories; and
    • liquids for injection.

    If you've been prescribed an opioid medication, you should:

    • only take it as prescribed;
    • never let someone else use it;
    • consult your doctor before you take it with alcohol and benzodiazepines; and
    • only take it with other medications if prescribed.

    Keep your medication safe

    To help prevent problematic use by others, you should:

    • never share your medication with anyone else ‒ this is illegal and may cause serious harm or death to the other person;
    • keep track of the number of pills remaining in a package; and
    • store opioids in a safe and secure place, out of the reach of children, teenagers and pets.

    If you have leftover or expired medication

    Returned the leftover or expired medication to a pharmacy. They can safely dispose of the medication.

  3. Why are we concerned about fentanyl?

    Fentanyl-related overdoses are on the rise across Canada.

    What is fentanyl?

    • Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid narcotic.
    • It's a prescription drug used primarily for cancer patients in severe pain.

    How toxic is fentanyl?

    • This drug is roughly 50 to 100 times more toxic than morphine.
    • Be aware that heroin, cocaine, oxycodone, and other drugs can be “cut” (diluted or addition) with fentanyl, in powder, liquid or pill form.

    Handle fentanyl carefully

    Use caution if you handle fentanyl. You can absorb it through mucous membranes. This means if you get any fentanyl on your skin, avoid touching your:

    • eyes;
    • nose; and
    • mouth.

    Prescribed fentanyl

    Fentanyl prescribed by your doctor is safe if you use it as prescribed. Be careful if you're also using other substances which may suppress breathing, such as:

    • alcohol;
    • benzodiazepines (like librium and valium); or
    • other non-prescribed drugs.

    You can download and share this handout about fentanyl.

  4. How opioids can affect you

    Opioids can be a problem because they can produce euphoria: a feeling of being high. You may think that someone with an opioid problem is only using illegally produced or obtained drugs, such as:

    • heroin; and
    • fentanyl.

    But, problematic use of opioids also includes when you use a prescription opioid improperly, such as:

    • taking more than is prescribed;
    • taking the drug at the wrong time;
    • taking the drug in a different form than it was prescribed; and
    • using an opioid medication that was not prescribed for you.

    Substance-use disorder or addiction

    If you're affected by a disorder or addiction, you crave the drug. You'll continue using it despite the harmful effects. The drug becomes the focus of your:

    • feelings;
    • thoughts; and
    • activities.

    How an opioid-use disorder affects you

    An opioid-use disorder changes your brain and body in ways that can make it hard for you to stop using. This is because your body gets used to a regular supply of the drug. If you stop using the drug, or lower your dose quickly, you'll likely experience withdrawal symptoms. You may also experience opioid-induced hyperalgesia – heightened pain – which makes it especially difficult to stop using.

    Withdrawal symptoms

    Physical withdrawal effects may include:

    • chills;
    • diarrhea;
    • insomnia;
    • sweating;
    • body aches;
    • nervousness;
    • widespread or increased pain;
    • irritability and agitation;
    • recurrence of pain at the site of a healed injury;
    • nausea; and
    • stomach pain.

    The severity of withdrawal and how long it lasts depend on:

    • how much drug you took;
    • which opioid you used; and
    • how long you used the drug.


    Substance-use disorder treatment may include:

    • harm reduction supplies and practical information;
    • counselling and support;
    • detoxification (managing withdrawal); and
    • medication-assisted treatment.

    Medication-assisted treatment involves taking a prescribed opioid medication such as:

    • opioid agonist therapy that uses buprenorphine; or
    • methadone.

    These prescribed medications work to prevent withdrawal and reduce cravings. You can take opioid agonist therapies to help stabilize your life and reduce harms associated with drug use.

  5. Using opioids when you're pregnant

    There is an increased risk of premature delivery for women who use opioids regularly, including prescription opioids. There is also a risk the baby may be born with life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Fortunately, Opioid Agonist Treatment is often considered a safe option for pregnant women. Such treatment has been shown to eliminate or substantially reduce non-medical opioid use, leading to improved outcomes for both mother and child. Find out more about treatment of opioid use disorder during pregnancy.

  6. Get help

    Get help for opioid-use disorder

    You can get help for opioid-use disorder. Contact Opioid Treatment Services.  You do not need a referral. Phone 867-668-2552 to make an appointment.

    Treatment services are located at 210 Elliott Street in Whitehorse along with the Referred Care Clinic. The clinic is open Monday to Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

    Get help with substance-use

    If you are someone you know is struggling with addictions in Whitehorse  call 867-456-3838 and in communities call 1-866-456-3838.


To contact Mental Wellness and Substance Use, phone 867-456-3838 or toll free 1-866-456-3838 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

To contact the Referred Care Clinic and Opioid Treatment Services, phone 867-668-2552 Monday to Friday between 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

To contact Withdrawal Management, phone 867-667-8473, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.