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Using Opioids for Pain Management

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Prescription opioids can be prescribed by physicians to treat moderate to severe pain, but can also have serious risks and side effects.

Common prescription opioid pain relievers include:

  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin)
  • Oxymorphone (Opana)
  • Methadone
  • Morphine
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)

The number of drug overdose deaths has never been higher, and the majority of these deaths (more than six out of 10 in 2015) involved opioids. From 1999 to 2013, the amount of prescription opioids dispensed in the U.S. nearly quadrupled.

If you have been prescribed opioids, there are several safety concerns you need to know.

  1. It is against the law to give or sell this drug to another person. You must keep these medications safely locked away and out of reach of others, especially children.
  2. You should always use opioid medications as directed by your doctor. Do not increase your dose or take more often than prescribed.
  3. Avoid other drugs while taking opioids. These include:
    • Alcohol
    • Marijuana
    • Sleeping pills and over-the-counter antihistamines
    • Anxiety pills
    • Muscle relaxants (unless specifically advised by your doctor)
    • Other prescription opioid painkillers
  4. Do not cut or chew long-acting opioid medications.

Side Effects

In addition to the serious risks of addiction, abuse and overdose, the use of prescription opioids can lead to a number of side effects, even when taken as directed.

  • Sedation
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Physical dependence
  • Tolerance
  • Respiratory depression

Addiction and Overdose

array of pill bottles

Opioids pose a risk of opioid dependency and anyone who takes prescription opioids can become addicted to them. Once tolerant, dependent or addicted, it can be hard to stop.

  • Your body may become opioid tolerant if you need to take more to get relief.
  • Opioid withdrawal can occur when you stop taking the drug.
  • Long-term opioid use may no longer give you relief from pain.
  • Long-term opioid use can make your pain worse by causing hyperalgesia.
  • Addiction is a drug induced brain disease and it can happen to anyone with repeated or persistent opioid use.

Be sure to schedule regular follow-ups and talk to your doctor about any and all side effects and concerns.

For an printable version of this information, please click here.

For more information, please speak with your pharmacist or physician. If you or someone you know needs help for substance abuse problems, call 1-800-622-HELP.


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