Prescription opioids

A community response to the opioid crisis

Joint Opioid Task Force

Opioid misuse has been declared a national crisis, and Bexar County has not been spared. In August 2017, the Joint Opioid Task Force was organized at the request of Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and strongly endorsed by Mayor Ron Nirenberg. The task force is chaired by Dr. Bryan Alsip, executive vice president and chief medical officer of University Health System; and Dr. Colleen Bridger, director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District. It includes public health experts, medical and pharmaceutical professionals, first responders, policymakers, educators, advocates and other stakeholders. The task force’s committees are working toward four main objectives:

  • Arming first responders with naloxone, an overdose reversal medication
  • Encouraging providers to participate in the Texas Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, a voluntary database of opioid prescriptions that can identify possible patterns of misuse
  • Educating providers about best practices for prescribing and dispensing
  • Educating the community about the risks of opioid misuse and overdose

Prescription opioids: What you need to know

Prescription opioids are often prescribed after an injury or surgical procedure, or for certain health problems. They can be effective in relieving moderate to severe pain. While these medicines can be an important part of your treatment, they also carry some significant risks of addiction and overdose — especially with prolonged use. An opioid overdose — often accompanied by slowed breathing — can cause sudden death. These medications also can have a number of side effects, even when used properly. They include:

  • Tolerance (needing more medication for the same pain relief)
  • Physical dependence (symptoms of withdrawal when a medication is stopped)
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Constipation
  • Nausea, vomiting and dry mouth
  • Sleepiness and dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Low levels of testosterone (lower sex drive, energy and strength)
  • Itching and sweating

Risks are greater with:

  • History of drug misuse, substance abuse or overdose
  • Mental health conditions (such as depression or anxiety)
  • Sleep apnea
  • Older age (65 years or older)
  • Pregnancy

Avoid drinking alcohol while taking prescription opioids. Also, unless specifically advised by your healthcare provider, avoid taking benzodiazepines (such as Xanax or Valium), muscle relaxants (such as Soma or Flexeril), hypnotics (such as Ambien or Lunesta) or other prescription opioids.

Other ways to manage pain

Talk to your health care provider about other pain-management options that may actually work better with fewer risks, such as:

  • Pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen
  • Some medications that are also used for depression or seizures
  • Physical therapy and exercise
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, a psychological, goal-directed approach in which patients learn how to modify physical, behavioral and emotional triggers of pain and stress.

If you are prescribed opioids

  • Store them in a secure place and out of reach of visitors, children, friends and family. If you have unused medication, safely dispose of it. The San Antonio Water System and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency both sponsor regular community drug take-back programs. Ask your pharmacy about mail-back or other disposal programs.
  • Never sell or share prescription opioids.
  • Visit www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose to learn about the risks of opioid abuse and overdose.
  • If you believe you may be struggling with addiction, tell your health care provider and ask for guidance or call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Additional resources