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What everyone should know about opioid misuse

Rx opioid deaths are rising dramatically — get the facts on safe use.

Like many medicines, prescription opioids come with both benefits and risks. On the one hand, they may help relieve pain. But they also may be easily misused, leading to addiction and overdose.

Even if you’ve never taken prescription pain meds, the following facts may help you better understand the problem. And if the need ever comes up for you, you’ll also find tips on working with your doctor to help ensure safe use.

Q. What are opioids?

A. They are drugs that relax the nervous system to reduce feelings of pain. Heroin is an example of an illegal opioid. Common prescription forms include:

  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone
  • Methadone
  • Fentanyl

How big an issue is opioid misuse?

A. It’s a major public health concern. More than 60 percent of drug overdose deaths involve some type of opioid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Opioid misuse is increasing at alarming rates in the U.S. In 2017, the Office on Women’s Health released a report on the problem in women. Here’s one of the findings: Between 1999 and 2015, the rate of deaths from prescription opioid overdoses increased 471 percent among women. That’s compared to an increase of 218 percent among men.

Q. What are the side effects of opioids?

A. Besides addiction and overdose, these pain relievers may cause side effects — even when taken as directed. These include:

  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Decreased sex drive, energy and strength
  • Depression
  • Dry mouth
  • Higher sensitivity to pain
  • Itching and sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Physical dependence, resulting in withdrawal symptoms if stopped
  • Sleepiness and dizziness
  • Tolerance — having to take higher doses to get the same effect

Q. If I’m prescribed opioids, how can I avoid misuse?

A. As with all medicines, only take opioids as directed. Never take more pills — or take pills more often — than prescribed. And talk with your doctor if you have concerns about side effects, including dependence.

Also for safety’s sake:

  • Avoid alcohol while taking opioids.
  • Ask your doctor if it’s OK to take opioids with other medicines you may take.
  • Store all medicines in a secure place that’s out of the reach of children and others.
  • Never share pain relievers with other people.
  • Follow up regularly with your doctor about your care.

Q. Are there other options for pain relief?

A. Yes. Talk with your doctor about what other types of care might help you. These might include non-opioid medicines — as well as exercise, physical therapy and other treatments.*

What to do next

Ask questions about any new medicine. Use this helpful checklist any time you’re prescribed something new.

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*Check your benefit plan to see what services may be covered. You may be responsible for any deductible, copay or coinsurance that may apply.

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