A brief guide to treatment for opioid dependence and addiction

Helpful and harmful opioid use

learn more

Life Savers: your one-stop website for information about opioids and opioid dependence

If you’ve had cause to wonder whether opioids are helpful or harmful in your life right now, you’re definitely not alone.

People take opioids for many reasons. A lot of people take opioids like codeine and oxycodone for chronic pain, illness and injury because of the therapeutic benefits of opioids.

As much as they can make us feel better, in other circumstances, they can make you feel worse. Sometimes much worse.

Getting on top of opioid dependence or addiction is difficult for a lot of us.

The stigma we encounter definitely doesn’t help. If you feel like it’s time to learn more about dependence on or addiction to opioids, read on.

This website provides information about opioid dependence (which may be diagnosed as Opioid Use Disorder or OUD) and about different options for treatment.

Opioids include pain medications that are often prescribed by doctors, such as codeine, morphine, oxycodone and fentanyl, and drugs that are usually illegal, such as heroin and opium. They are usually used to treat pain, but they can also be used to treat opioid dependence.

Some people use opioids for the pleasant, relaxed feeling that they give, even if they don’t have any pain. Some people may start using opioids to treat a medical problem, but continue to use them even after their problem has gone.

Anyone can develop a dependence to opioids. It doesn’t matter why or how they use opioids, how old they are, what their background is, or their life experience – opioid dependence can affect anyone.

  1. People who are worried that they may be dependent on opioids
  2. People who know that they are dependent on opioids
  3. Family members or carers of someone who is dependent on opioids
  4. Healthcare providers who work with people who are dependent on opioids

There is always some level of risk of dependence or other harm when taking opioids. This is true whether a person is prescribed opioids by a doctor or if they get opioids in a different way. This website provides information on how to recognise dependence and outlines options for treatment, including medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

There are different names for the use of medications to treat opioid dependence or opioid use disorder. These include pharmacotherapy, medication-assisted treatment for opioid dependence and opioid substitution/maintenance/replacement/agonist therapy.

The name that’s used for these treatments depends on a few things, including where you live. ‘Opioid substitution therapy’ (OST) is the term preferred by the World Health Organisation (WHO) but ‘medication-assisted treatment’ (MAT) is the term used in the US, and in Australia many people use ‘opioid agonist therapy’ (OAT).

You can ask a drug worker, doctor or pharmacist about the most common term for where you live. Even if you call it a different name, the person should know what you’re talking about.

This website uses the term ‘medication-assisted treatment’ or MAT.