Frequently Asked Questions
I’m Seeking Help
1. Where can I find help for opioid use disorder?
If you think you are having an emergency for an unexpected medical condition, including a psychiatric emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room for help. If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.
Families and friends impacted by a substance use disorder can find resources on the Substance Use Disorder Support for Families page.
1. What are opioids?
Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and many others.
Prescription opioids are a specific category of opioids that are legally available only with a prescription from a licensed healthcare provider. Prescription opioids can provide effective pain relief but also carry a risk of misuse, dependency, and addiction if used improperly or for an extended period.
Synthetic opioids are opioids that are entirely manufactured or synthesized in a laboratory. Synthetic opioids are often more potent than natural opioids and are used for various medical purposes, including pain management. However, some synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, are highly potent and primarily intended for use in clinical settings.
Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance taken from the seed pod of various opium poppy plants. Heroin is highly addictive, but a range of treatments are effective in helping people stop heroin use.
Misuse of any opioid can have serious health consequences, and it is crucial to use these medications only as prescribed by a health care professional and to follow their instructions carefully.
2. What is fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid used for treating severe pain and is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Illicit fentanyl has been found in many drugs, and testing reveals that 6 out of 10 fentanyl-laced fake prescription pills contain a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl.
3. What is xylazine?
Xylazine is a non-opioid animal tranquilizer that induces sedation and aids in pain relief. While xylazine is intended to be used in veterinary medicine, it has been increasingly found in combination with opioids such as fentanyl and linked to overdose deaths.
4. What are stimulants?
Stimulants are drugs that increase activity in the central nervous system and include prescription drugs, caffeine, and illicit drugs. Stimulants can be misused and are addictive. Chronic, high-dose use is associated with negative health consequences.
Treatment and Support for Opioid Use Disorder
1. What are medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD)?
Buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone are the most common FDA-approved medications used to treat OUD. These medications operate to normalize brain chemistry, block the euphoric effects of alcohol and opioids, relieve physiological cravings, and normalize body functions without the negative and euphoric effects of the substance used.
2. What is medication-assisted treatment (MAT)?
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of FDA-approved medications in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, which is effective in the treatment of opioid use disorders (OUD) and can help some people to sustain recovery.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has a webpage on terms to use and avoid when talking about addiction. NIDA recommends using terms like MOUD instead of MAT, as the term MAT implies that medication should have a supplemental or temporary role in treatment. Using “MOUD” aligns with the way other psychiatric medications are understood as critical tools that are central to a patient’s treatment plan.
3. What is buprenorphine?
Buprenorphine is a medication used to treat opioid use disorder. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, which means that it attaches to opioid receptors in the brain and partially activates these receptors. This partial activation eases symptoms of withdrawal and simultaneously manages cravings.
4. What is methadone?
Methadone is a medication used to treat opioid use disorder. Methadone is a full opioid agonist, which means that it attaches to opioid receptors in the brain and activating them to block symptoms of withdrawal and cravings.
5. What is naltrexone?
Naltrexone is a medication used to treat both alcohol use disorder and opioid use disorder. Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist, meaning that it blocks opioid receptors in the brain to prevent cravings.
6. What are syringe services programs?
Syringe services programs (SSPs), also known as needle exchange programs or harm reduction programs, provide sterile syringes, collect used ones, and act as points of access to health care and help for people who use drugs. There are more than sixty programs in California that provide syringe services. Find individual program information on the webpage for the directory of California SSPs.
Opioid Overdoses and Reversal Medicine
1. What is naloxone?
Naloxone is a medicine that rapidly reverses an opioid overdose. It attaches to opioid receptors and reverses and blocks the effects of opioids. Naloxone is not a treatment for opioid use disorder, and it has no effect when administered to someone who has not taken opioids. Naloxone is available as a nasal spray and an injectable medication.
2. Where can I get naloxone?
To learn more about OTC Narcan® see this Over the Counter (OTC) Narcan® Nasal Spray (PDF) FAQ from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).
Anyone can get naloxone from a pharmacy or from a local organization that has a naloxone distribution program, such as a local opioid or overdose safety coalition or a syringe services program directory. This map from the National Harm Reduction Coalition provides information on where to find naloxone in your community.
Naloxone is available to all Medi-Cal beneficiaries with a prescription.
Emergent BioSolutions provides two free units of NARCAN® (naloxone HCl) Nasal Spray to non-profits, schools, universities and colleges, public libraries, and YMCAs in the United States. Information regarding Emergent’s Free Goods Program can be found by emailing EmergentGives@ebsi.com.
Qualified organizations: Naloxone Distribution Project
The California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) provides naloxone to qualified organizations to distribute naloxone within communities. Learn more by visiting the Naloxone Distribution Project webpage.
Counties and cities
In addition, counties have Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant funding available, such as Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grants (SABG), to provide naloxone.
Counties and cities may also have opioid settlement funding that can be used to purchase and provide naloxone to local communities.
3. What are the symptoms of an opioid overdose?
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)’s webpage has information on the warning signs of opioid overdose and how medications can help treat and prevent it.
Opioid overdose is life-threatening and requires immediate emergency attention. Recognizing the signs of opioid overdose is essential to saving lives.
Call 911 immediately if a person exhibits ANY of the following symptoms:
- Their face is extremely pale and/or feels clammy to the touch.
- Their body goes limp.
- Their fingernails or lips have a purple or blue color.
- They start vomiting or making gurgling noises.
- They cannot be awakened or are unable to speak.
- Their breathing or heartbeat slows or stops.
The following tips can help you or a loved one avoid opioid overdose:
- Take medicine as prescribed by your practitioner.
- Do not take more medication or take it more often than instructed.
- Never mix pain medicines with alcohol, sleeping pills, or illicit substances Never take anyone else medication.
- Prevent children and pets from accidental ingestion by storing your medication out of reach.
- For more information, visit CDC’s Up and Away educational campaign.
- Dispose of unused medication safely. Talk to your practitioner for guidance, or for more information on the safe disposal of unused medications, visit FDA’s disposal of unused medicines or DEA’s drug disposal webpages.
4. What should I do if I see someone displaying opioid overdose symptoms?
If you suspect someone is experiencing an opioid overdose immediately consider the following actions to save their life:
- Call 911.
- If the person has stopped breathing or if breathing is very weak, begin CPR (best performed by someone who has training).
- If available, treat the person with naloxone to reverse opioid overdose.
Family members, caregivers, or the people who spend time with individuals using opioids need to know how to recognize the signs of an overdose and how to administer life-saving services until emergency medical help arrives. Individuals experiencing an opioid overdose will not be able to treat themselves. Naloxone is a medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent opioid overdose.
The California Department of Public Health webpage on naloxone has additional information on treating people with naloxone to reverse opioid overdose.
5. How can I check if my drugs contain fentanyl or xylazine?
Fentanyl test strips
Fentanyl test strips (FTS) are a low-cost method of helping prevent drug overdoses and reducing harm. FTS are small strips of paper that can detect the presence of fentanyl in all different kinds of drugs (cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, etc.) and drug forms (pills, powder, and injectables). FTS provide people who use drugs and communities with important information about fentanyl in the illicit drug supply so they can take steps to reduce risk of overdose.
The California Department of Public Health’s FAQ on fentanyl and fentanyl test strips has more information on where to find fentanyl test strips in California.
Xylazine test strips
Xylazine test strips can detect the presence of xylazine and its analogs in substances. These strips work by immersing a small portion of the drug into a solution and then applying the strip to the solution. The strip will indicate the presence of xylazine through color changes or other visible reactions. The Center for Forensic Science Research & Education has published a study on xylazine test strips and found that the performance of these strips is acceptable for drug checking purposes.
Xylazine test strips are available for purchase through the company BTNX.
Drug checking services
Some communities or harm reduction organizations offer drug checking services where you can have your substances tested. These services often use more advanced methods, such as spectroscopy or mass spectrometry, to analyze the composition of the drug and identify the presence of fentanyl or other substances accurately. These services may be available at needle exchanges or specialized testing facilities.
Some harm reduction organizations in California provide drug checking services at no cost. The National Harm Reduction Coalition has more information on where to find these resources in your community.
DHCS Opioid Response
1. What is DHCS doing to address the opioid crisis?
As a part of its continued effort to address the opioid crisis, the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) is investing in harm reduction, prevention, treatment, and recovery through the DHCS Opioid Response. Learn more about the DHCS Opioid Response at the About Us webpage.
2. What projects are funded through the DHCS Opioid Response?
Visit our Projects page to learn about projects that DHCS is supporting to combat the opioid crisis. Projects include the California Overdose Prevention Network (COPN), MAT Access Points, and the Naloxone Distribution Project.
3. Where can I find more information about the California opioid settlement funds?
California has joined several lawsuits against manufacturers, distributors, and others responsible for aiding the opioid epidemic. For more information about the California opioid settlement funds, please visit our webpage about the opioid settlements.
4. How can we receive updates on the DHCS Opioid Response?
If you would like to receive updates on DHCS Opioid Response activities, you use our sign-up form to subscribe to our newsletter.
5. What is the California MAT Expansion Project?
The California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) created the California MAT Expansion Project to increase access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT), reduce unmet treatment need, and reduce opioid overdose-related deaths by investing in prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and recovery.
DHCS has renamed the California MAT Expansion Project as the DHCS Opioid Response. DHCS is renaming this project to reflect its comprehensive response to the opioid crisis, which includes many projects that do not directly relate to MAT.
DHCS also is moving away from the use of the term MAT, as the National Institute on Drug Abuse has recommended avoiding this term to reduce stigma and negative bias.
6. What happened to the CaliforniaMAT.org website?
DHCS has renamed the CaliforniaMAT.org website as CaliforniaOpioidResponse.org to reflect the new project name of the California MAT Expansion Project: The DHCS Opioid Response (see question 21). All links to the CaliforniaMAT.org website will be automatically rerouted to the new URL.
7. Where can I find data on drug-related overdoses in California?
Visit the California Overdose Surveillance Dashboard website to find data on state and local level drug-related overdose outcomes for California, including deaths, emergency department visits, and hospitalizations, as well as opioid and select other drug prescription data. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) manages this website.
8. How is the DHCS Opioid Response funded?
DHCS funds projects under the DHCS Opioid Response through the State Opioid Response (SOR) grants under the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), opioid settlement funds received from various lawsuits against pharmaceutical and drug distribution companies, and California State General Funds.
9. Does DHCS have any funding opportunities for behavioral health organizations?
Visit the Opportunities page to learn more about behavioral health funding and learning opportunities for health care providers, community organizations, counties, and more.
10. Where can I find events or webinars related to the DHCS Opioid Response?
Visit the Upcoming Events page to learn more about upcoming webinars, clinics, and other events.