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Opioid Dependence


Opioids are medicines, such as morphine and codeine, used to treat pain. Dependence happens after you have used opioids regularly for a long period of time. Dependence means that your body gets used to how much medicine you take. Dependence is not the same as addiction. Addiction means that a person uses opioids to get high instead of using them to control pain.


Call 911 if:

  • You have a seizure.

Return to the emergency department if:

  • You feel lightheaded or faint.
  • You have a fast, slow, or irregular heartbeat.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • Your speech is slurred.
  • You have difficulty staying awake.
  • You have nausea and are vomiting, or you cannot stop vomiting.
  • You are easily upset or cry easily.
  • You have poor balance.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Opioid safety:

  • Do not suddenly stop taking opioid pain medicine. If you have been taking opioid pain medicine for longer than 2 weeks, a sudden stop may cause dangerous side effects. If you need to continue taking an opioid, do not suddenly stop taking it. Work with your healthcare provider to decrease your dose slowly if that is the goal.
  • Take your medicine exactly as directed. Do not take more of the recommended amount of opioids each time you take it. Do not take opioids more often than recommended. If you use a pain patch, be sure to remove the old patch before you place a new one.
  • Do not take opioids that belong to someone else. The amount of opioids that person takes may not be right for you.
  • Do not mix opioids with alcohol, sleeping pills, or street drugs. The combination of these substances can cause an overdose.
  • Learn about the signs of an overdose so you know how to respond. Tell others about these signs so they will know what to do if needed. Talk to your healthcare provider about naloxone. In some states, you may be able to keep naloxone at home in case of an overdose. Your family and friends can also be trained on how to give it to you if needed.
  • Keep opioids out of the reach of children. Store opioids in a locked cabinet or in a location that children cannot get to. Ask your healthcare provider how to dispose of any unused opioid medicines.
  • Follow instructions for what to do with medicine you do not use. Your healthcare provider will give you instructions for how to dispose of opioid pain medicine safely. This helps make sure no one else takes the medicine.

Follow up with your healthcare provider or pain specialist as directed:

You may need to return for other tests. You may also be referred to a specialty clinic to receive maintenance therapy medicine on a regular basis. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Psychological counseling and support:

Your healthcare provider may recommend that you receive psychological counseling as part of your treatment plan. A specially trained healthcare provider will speak with you about your opioid dependence. He or she will help you find ways to become less dependent on opioids.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.