Misuse of opioid medications to relieve pain has become a national epidemic. An estimated 48 Americans die of a prescription opioid overdose every day. These powerful pain medications have their place. When misused, however, opioids can lead to addiction, overdose or death. If the medication your doctor suggests is an opioid, like codeine or oxycodone, ask these questions before you head to the pharmacy:
- Are there any nonopioid treatment options?
Opioids aren’t the first-choice treatment for many kinds of pain. Depending on your situation, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil). Other options may include injections, physical therapy, and exercise.
- If I need an opioid, how long should I take it?
Ask your doctor to prescribe the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time. For short-term pain (such as pain after surgery or a serious sports injury), a short-term prescription should do. For long-lasting issues (such as arthritis or chronic back pain), nonopioid treatments may be safer and more effective.
- Could the opioid interact with my other medications?
Review all your prescription or over-the-counter medicines with your doctor, even those you take occasionally. It’s important to mention anti-anxiety drugs, muscle relaxants, seizure medications and sleeping pills.
- What if I have a history of drug or alcohol problems?
Talk with your doctor about problems you’ve had with drugs, alcohol or smoking. Also, tell your doctor if someone in your family has a history of substance abuse. Addiction runs in families.
- Where should I keep my opioid medication?
If you spend time with children or young adults, consider keeping opioid medication in a lockbox. For children, an accidental overdose can quickly turn fatal. For teens, easy access to opioids may sometimes lead to misuse.
- What are some danger signs?
Learn to recognize serious side effects of opioids, such as excessive sleepiness and cravings for more of the drug. You and your family should know when to call the doctor or 911.
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Dr. Christopher Lege specializes in Internal Medicine at Crescent City Physicians, Inc., a subsidiary of Touro Infirmary. After earning his medical degree from Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans, Dr. Lege completed his residency at Tulane Medical Center. He is the Chief Medical Officer for Crescent City Physicians and Touro’s Internal Medicine Division Director. Dr. Lege values the physician/patient relationship because he enjoys educating patients to help keep them healthy and focusing his practice on preventative care.