Opioid medications are typically used to treat and relieve pain. They reduce the number of pain signals sent from your body, typically a particular area, to your brain. Opioids also change the way your brain reacts to pain. They look and act like chemicals that your body produces and attach to opioid receptors on your nerve cells. They specifically target the receptors that are responsible for feeling pleasure and relieving pain. Opioids are commonly prescribed by doctors after minor or major surgeries, for injuries, as well as various other treatments. Despite their highly addictive nature, they are relatively safe when used as directed. However, there are things to keep in mind if you are taking prescribed opioids in order to prevent potential addiction and dependency from occurring.
After using opioid painkillers for just five days, the possibility of addiction or dependency increases sharply. It’s important to be honest with your doctor before they prescribe any kind of painkiller, especially when they ask questions about your medical history. Some people with certain conditions are more susceptible to dangerous side-effects from these medications. Those who struggle with sleep apnea, obesity, anxiety, depression, and fibromyalgia are most at risk or negative reactions. Mental health issues like history of severe depression, tobacco use, prior issues with addiction, and family history of substance misuse should try to avoid using opioids at all costs. The best way to avoid ever developing an addiction to a highly addictive substance is never to begin use in the first place.
There are certain things you should expect from your doctor when they prescribe painkillers. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommends physicians take certain precautions before they write any scripts for opioids.
- Dosage: Physicians should aim to prescribe the lowest dose possible for the shortest amount of time when treating acute pain from surgery or a severe injury. The ideal time frame would be three days or less of usage. Circumstances like dental surgery, bone fractures, and other inpatient surgery fall under this category.
- Chronic pain management: Opioids should not be the primary medication to help manage long-term pain issues. Unless the patient is suffering from cancer or cancer treatments, long-term use of opioids for pain management has proven to be problematic and leads many to misuse.
- Treatment timeline: Before prescribing opioids, physicians should create a timeline or goal sheet with patients, outlining a schedule to cease usage of the medication. With chronic pain, there should be a plan to minimize the use of medication while maximizing quality of life. The side-effects of prolonged opioid use will only cause substantially more issues for the patient on top of their existing condition.
- Long-term usage agreement: When a patient is prescribed opioids for an extended amount of time, they may be required to sign a user agreement with the physician stating their responsibilities of obtaining an opioid prescription and the acknowledgement that additional opioid medication will not be sought while taking the currently prescribed medication under any circumstance.
- Check–ups: After a patient is prescribed opioids, it’s important to schedule follow up visits to evaluate the course of treatment. If the prescription is ongoing, patients should go in to see the physician with every refill so their health and wellbeing can be evaluated.
- Taper plan: When it’s time to discontinue long-term use of opioids, it’s beneficial to follow a tapering plan to slowly decrease dosage and avoid painful withdrawal symptoms. This can be done safely with the help of a physician.
While taking opioid medication, it’s very important to be transparent with your doctor and pharmacist about medications being used. It’s also crucial to keep track of all the doctors you are seeing and all of your prescriptions. It’s a good idea to keep a list or chart handy that you can bring with you to doctors’ appointments, so you don’t accidentally forget pertinent information. This list or chart should also include all over-the-counter medications that you are taking. It’s also important to indicate your level of alcohol use as well. Using the same pharmacy for all your medications is the safest way to manage all your medications. This way, the pharmacist can see your medication log and alert you of any possible dangerous interactions between medications you are taking. Make sure you always read the included pamphlet that comes with every prescribed medication. Read about potential side-effects so you are not caught by surprise in case you develop a reaction. If you do experience side-effects, be sure to contact your doctor immediately. While some may seem mildly bothersome, they could be potentially fatal if not tended to. Be aware of expiration dates on pill bottles as well. Medicine will lose its effectiveness after a certain amount of time.
Always be sure to dispose of your unused medication!
Don’t keep it around “just in case.” People who become addicted to opioids usually were once prescribed them, but continued use after their doctor directed them to cease usage. If you’re unsure of how to dispose of unused medication, contact your local law enforcement agency and they can direct you the proper disposal service. Never give unused medication to other people. Even a seemingly “small” dose could prove deadly for someone who was not originally prescribed opioid medication. Simple throwing medication in the trash could also lead to someone, particularly minors or babies, finding it and ingesting it, so it’s best to use approved medical disposal services to get rid of unused pills or patches.
If you feel that your opioid medication prescription is not being handled properly, or you are showing signs of addiction, speak with your doctor openly about your concerns. Potential signs can be overlooked, which is why open communication with your physician is vital for keeping medical opioid use safe.