If you are taking opioids or talking with your health care provider about this treatment option, now is the time to plan for safe use and disposal of these medications.
Practicing caution can mean the difference between life and death for you, your loved ones and your neighbors. Most people who misuse prescription painkillers report getting them from a family member or friend.
Opioids are highly addictive. After just five days of prescription opioid use, the likelihood that you’ll develop long-term dependence on these drugs rises steeply. Conditions that increase your risk of dangerous side effects from opioid medications include:
• Sleep apnea.
• Anxiety or depression.
• Heavy tobacco use.
• Prior drug or alcohol rehabilitation.
• Family history of substance abuse.
• Personal history of substance abuse.
Your health care provider should ask about all of these risk factors before prescribing any new opioid medication. Be honest, and don’t be afraid to ask your own questions. The safest time to prevent opioid-related problems is before you start these medications.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides guidance for safe prescribing of opioid medications:
• In most cases, acute pain, such as pain that follows surgery or a bone fracture, is not severe enough to require opioids for more than three days.
• These medications are not often safe or effective for chronic pain unrelated to cancer or cancer treatments.
• There’s no cure for chronic pain — even with drugs as powerful as opioids. And there are risks associated with all pain medications.
• If you’ve taken opioids for chronic pain and determine it’s time to stop, your health care provider should help you slowly and safely taper off these drugs to avoid potentially severe side effects.
You play a critical role in ensuring your safety while taking opioids. Your health care provider and pharmacist can’t help you stay safe if they don’t have complete and current information about all your medications. Take these steps with your health care providers:
• Tell all of your providers about all of the drugs you’re taking. Opioids interact dangerously with many medications. Each provider must be aware of all the medication you’re taking, including over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, allergy medicine and nutritional supplements. Be honest about your alcohol use and any illegal substances you use.
• Order all your medications through the same pharmacy whenever possible. The pharmacy has systems in place that alert pharmacists to potentially dangerous interactions.
• Read the instructions and warnings on the drug safety information sheet stapled to your prescription.
• If you have any side effects, such as constipation, nausea, mood changes or confusion, contact a member of your health care team immediately.
• Check the expiration date on your pill bottle. Medication loses its effectiveness over time, and its effects become unpredictable.