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Opioid Use Disorder Can Happen to Anyone.
Understand the Risks of Prescription Opioids.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids are a family of drugs such as heroin and morphine that are made from opium poppies. They can also be man-made, such as Oxycodone (Percocet, Oxycontin), or Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco), or Fentanyl. They act in many ways in the brain and can be highly addictive.
Prescription opioids can be used to help relieve moderate-to-severe pain and are often prescribed following a surgery or injury, or for certain health conditions. These medications can be an important part of treatment but also come with serious risks. It is important to work with your health care provider to make sure you are getting the safest, most effective care.
Risks and Side Effects:
Prescription opioids carry serious risks of addiction and overdose, especially with prolonged use. An opioid overdose, often marked by slowed breathing, can cause sudden death. They can have many other side effects, even when used as directed, such as constipation, slowed or stopped breathing, feelings of euphoria, increased risk of infection, nausea, depression, and low levels of testosterone, which can affect sex drive and strength. Amazingly, long-term use of opioids can actually cause a person to have an increased sensitivity to pain.
Risks are greater with:
- History of drug misuse, substance use disorder, or overdose
- Mental health conditions (such as depression or anxiety)
- Sleep apnea
- Older age (65 years or older)
What is Tolerance and Addiction?
Opioids, like all addictive drugs, change how your brain is wired, meaning a person taking them will often need higher and higher doses to get the same effect. This is called tolerance. Without the drug, a person will go into withdrawal, which has been described as the worst flu one has ever had, to the point you feel like you are dying. People who are addicted to opioids can get to the place where they will do anything to stay out of withdrawal, including committing crimes and hurting and abandoning their loved ones. Many people believe those addicted to opioids should just tough it out and quit.
Unfortunately, the brain changes and the development of tolerance and withdrawal are not under a person’s control. It is much more accurate to look at addiction to drugs as a chronic (long-term) disease, just like diabetes or high blood pressure. The good news is that opioid addiction is a treatable condition now medically recognized as a substance use disorder and can be treated with a combination of medication and behavioral health supports. Learn more about Medication-Assisted Treatment.
What to do if you are prescribed opiates for pain:
Be informed! Make sure you know the name of your medication, how much and how often to take it, and its potential risks & side effects.
- Never take opioids in greater amounts or more often than prescribed.
- Follow up with your primary health care provider and work together to create a plan on how to manage your pain.
- Talk about ways to help manage your pain that don’t involve prescription opioids.
- Talk about any and all concerns and side effects.
Avoid alcohol while taking prescription opioids. Also, unless specifically advised by your health care provider, medications to avoid include:
- Benzodiazepines (such as Xanax or Valium)
- Muscle relaxants (such as Soma or Flexeril)
- Hypnotics (such as Ambien or Lunesta)
- Other prescription opioids
Help prevent misuse and abuse:
Are opioids affecting your life?
- Are you using more opioids than you want to?
- Is it hard to cut down or control your opioid use?
- Do you crave opioids?
- Has your opioid use caused problems in your relationships with others, or other parts of life, like work, school, or home?
- Are you having difficulty concentrating, or do you feel detached from your surroundings?
- Are you experiencing emotional swings, irritability, depression, or paranoia?
- Are you developing a tolerance (feeling less effect from the drug)?
- Have you tried to stop using opioids without success?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have an Opioid Use Disorder, and treatment can help!