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What You May Not Know About Opioids

Fast Relief

You’re in pain. A lot of pain. Luckily, your doctor prescribes a drug that excels at relieving pain. It’s an opioid. You are taking opioids if your doctor has prescribed one of these:

  • Codeine
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin and Roxicodone)
  • Hydrocodone
  • Tramadol
  • Methadone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Tapentadol
  • Anileridine
  • Levorphanol
  • Buprenorphine
  • Fentanyl 

You take your medicine. You soon feel much better. That’s a good thing … for now. 

The Opioid Effect

Opioids are great drugs when you’re in pain. They’re also highly addictive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says opioid dependency can begin within three days of taking the drugs. Opiates change how the brain perceives pain. They produce feelings of pleasure or euphoria. The impact on the brain’s reward system is what leads to addiction. They also slow essential bodily functions like heart rate and breathing. The stronger the opiate, the faster and more powerful the effects. Over time, the body gets used to opioids, and they stop working as well. To get the same relief, you need to take more and more.

If you use them long term, you have a 1 in 4 chance of becoming addicted. Addiction carries serious side effects and risks. Every day — addicted or not — hundreds of people end up in the emergency room overdosed on opioids. The risk of overdose with opioids is high because the amount that can cause an overdose is not much higher than the amount used to treat pain. And unfortunately, some don’t even make it to the emergency room. Every day, more than 100 of those who overdose on opioids end up dead.

In fact, opioid overdose is the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 30. And 40 percent of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription.

Reversing the Trend

Thankfully, the staggering number of deaths attributed to the opioid epidemic has gradually begun to decline, largely because doctors are prescribing far fewer of them to treat chronic pain, such as arthritis, low back pain or frequent headaches. Chronic pain is a common reason people see their doctor. Twenty percent of these patients leave with an opioid prescription. And while opioids’ ability to manage pain makes them an easy option, it doesn’t necessarily make them the best option. Many alternative pain management programs — cognitive behavioral therapy, acupuncture, medical massage, physical therapy — have proven to be effective alternatives to opioid prescriptions. Even the CDC reported these alternative strategies were all useful in providing relief for chronic pain.

Speak With Your Doctor

Even if you’re taking them for legitimate pain relief, opioid use can quickly turn to opioid dependency or addiction. And that’s a road you don’t want to travel. Talk with your doctor about other pain management options. Ones designed to treat chronic, long-term pain without opioids — and not just because opioids are so addictive. Opioid use may also produce unpleasant side effects:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Itching
  • Constipation
  • Problems breathing
  • Problems urinating
  • Mental disturbance and confusion 

If your doctor says opioids are necessary, know how to protect yourself:

  • Take the lowest dose
  • Know the side effects and risks
  • Use only as directed 

And remember, never take medications from a friend or family member that were not prescribed for you. Likewise, never share your medications. And please, dispose of all medicines you no longer need.

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