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
- Nausea, vomiting and dry mouth
- Sleepiness and dizziness
- 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)
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.
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.
- 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