Dealing with Opioids: What to Do If You’re Prescribed Painkillers

opioids 01Unfortunately, we are currently experiencing an epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose in this country. If you watch the news, you can’t help but hear and see too many tragic stories of addiction that start with a script for a painkiller.

What starts off to deal with pain from injury or surgery can easily lead to serious problems. A recent study showed that 86% of heroin users who were studied started off with prescription opioids. This is a crazy high statistic, and it should be alarming to anyone.

So first, let’s talk a little about what opioids are and how to recognize them.

This article is a pretty good introduction to the topic of opioids

What are opioids?

Opioids are drugs that act on the nervous system to relieve pain. They are often prescribed by doctors for people recovering from a serious injury or medical procedure. They are offered in pill form, with doses varying in strength.

Here’s a list of common opioids to be aware of:

·      Fiorional with Codeine

·      Duragesic

·      Robitussin A-C

·      Sublimaze

·      Tylenol with Codeine

·      OxyContin

·      Empirin with Codeine

·      Percodan

·      Roxanol

·      Percocet

·      Duramorph

·      Tylox

·      Demerol

·       Dilaudid

·      Actiq

This article is a more complete list of opioids and their street names

What’s the danger?

A lot of the names on that list sound harmless. After all, how bad could a type of Tylenol be? Well, these drugs aren’t intended to be harmful, they’re intended to help people with severe pain. They’re also only intended to be taken for a short amount of time.

The problem is that they can be very addictive, some more than others. The higher the dosage, the more likely one is to become addicted. But even low dose opioids can lead to dependency. Over a long period, these substances have a detrimental effect on the body. Someone addicted to opioids becomes so dependent on them, that they need a regular dose just to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

opioids 02If someone becomes addicted, their doctor will only re-fill their prescription so many times before they realize the patient is addicted, and stops filling the scripts. When this happens, people who are deeply dependent on the substances must look for other options, which is why heroin use is so linked to opioid use. It offers relief from the addiction and can be cheaper than the prescription drugs. I don’t think I need to tell you how heroin can destroy lives.

So, what do I do If I’m prescribed opioids?

opioids 03I’ve seen plenty of patients who were started on a pain medication after a minor injury, which was meant to be short term, then ended up being taken long term.

First, you should know that you don’t have to take them. Pain after an injury usually can be treated with non-opioid pain medications. You can ask your doctor about alternatives that don’t lead to dependence. They will understand, and furthermore, you are the one who ultimately decides what you put in your body. If you can manage the pain without opioids, you really should go that route.

If your pain is so severe that an opioid is needed, it should be used for a week or less if possible to prevent tolerance and addiction. Taking them for more than a week really leads someone into the danger zone in terms of addiction. I can’t make this point strongly enough. Opioids are serious substances and should only be used in extreme situations.

If you find yourself craving the opioids when you take them, make note of it. This is the addictive property at work. Stop taking them as soon as you can, that is the best advice I can give.

If you’re a parent and your child is prescribed opioids, you should again ask their doctor if there are non-opioid alternatives that would work better. If there are no alternatives, you should closely monitor the amount your child is taking. You should administer each dose carefully, and per the schedule provided by your doctor. Keep the bottle somewhere where the child can’t access it to administer to themselves. This can really make a difference.

Here’s some info on what to do if you’re prescribed opioids from the CDC

Better Solutions on the Way

We are learning so much more about treating pain and I am hopeful things will only get better. There are plenty of alternatives already available, and with all the issues currently becoming known about opioids, doctors and scientists are working on better, safer pain management solutions.

This new drug for example, offers hope for better pain management treatments.

If you have any questions about opioid prescriptions, use, or addiction, feel free to reach out to me. You should make sure you understand everything you can about a substance before you take it. Ask your doctor. There are no stupid questions when it comes to a topic as serious as this.

Best wishes,

Dr. Johnson