With all the discussion and media attention about opioids, many people are concerned about taking prescription pain relief, even when prescribed by their medical provider. Although opioids can be addictive and have serious side effects, they are safest and most effective when taken short-term for moderate to severe effective pain management.
The purpose of this article is not to give medical advice, but to help individuals prepare for conversations with their provider to determine whether opioids are the best course of treatment for their specific needs. We suggest questions to ask and background information about each question. Your health care provider will help you find the most appropriate treatment for your condition.
Are there other treatment options I could try first? Recent studies have shown that prescription opioids may not be the best first step in dealing with pain. Sometimes physical therapy, exercise, ice, rest, chiropractic treatment, massage, yoga, acupuncture, and other alternative treatments can be just as beneficial as a prescription pain killer. Some people find relief alternating over-the-counter acetaminophen with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen. Again, be sure to check with your medical provider first and follow all dosing instructions on the package.
What are the side effects and risks of taking opioid pain killers? Side effects may include constipation, drowsiness, dizziness, impaired judgment and nausea or vomiting. The biggest potential risk is becoming dependent or addicted. For some people, three to five days of an opioid prescription are enough to develop dependence. Ask your care giver about signs of dependence and what to do if you suspect you are developing tolerance or dependence. Another opioid risk is that their long-term use can mask the symptoms of other diseases.
How will opioids interact with the medications I am already taking? Be sure to discuss any other prescriptions and over-the-counter medications you are taking as well. Opioids should not be mixed with alcohol, illegal drugs, and many other medications, so be sure to share a complete list with your doctor. Don’t forget to include any meds prescribed by psychiatrists, dentists, specialists, herbalists and other treatment providers.
How can I safely store and then dispose unused medications? Medications should be stored in safe places that are unavailable to anyone who visits your home. There are safe disposal boxes at the White County Sheriff’s office as well as the Monticello Police Department.
Will the opioids cause me to experience more pain? Because of the way opioids interact with the pain receptors in our brains, long term use may suppress natural pain inhibitors causing pain to be felt more acutely.
Your doctor will want to know if there is a history of addiction or alcoholism in your family or in your past.
Remember, this article is NOT intended to offer medical advice. Rather these suggestions are offered to help you partner with your doctor to be informed and engaged in determining the most appropriate treatment plan to address your specific medical needs.
Lynn Saylor is an AmeriCorps member serving in the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative through the White County United Way. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lynn Saylor is the AmeriCorps member working with the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative alongside the White County United Way. She is a major facilitator of the United Council on Opioids serving White County and a regular contributor to local media.