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Opioid Safety


What do I need to know about opioid safety?

Safety includes the correct use, storage, and disposal of opioids. Examples of opioid pain medicines are oxycodone, morphine, fentanyl, and codeine.

How are opioids given?

Opioids can be given as a pill, patch, or suppository. They can also be given as an injection into a vein, near a nerve, or into a joint. Your prescription may include one or both of the following:

  • Short-acting opioids work fast and relieve pain for about 3 to 6 hours. They are often used for acute or breakthrough pain.
  • Long-acting opioids usually last at least 8 hours. You can take them less often and they may be used for chronic pain.

How do I use opioids safely?

  • Take prescribed opioids exactly as directed. Opioids come with directions based on the kind and how it is given. Talk to your healthcare provider or a pharmacist if you have any questions. Do not take more than the recommended amount. Too much can cause a life-threatening overdose. Do not continue to take it after your pain stops. You may develop tolerance. This means you keep needing higher doses to get the same effect. You may also develop opioid use disorder. This means you are not able to control your opioid use.
  • Do not give opioids to others or take opioids that belong to someone else. The kind or amount one person takes may not be right for another. The person you share them with may also be taking medicines that do not mix with opioids. He or she may drink alcohol or use other drugs that can cause life-threatening problems when mixed with opioids.
  • Do not mix opioids with other medicines or alcohol. The combination can cause an overdose, or cause you to stop breathing. Alcohol, sleeping pills, and medicines such as antihistamines can make you sleepy. A combination with opioids can lead to a coma.
  • Do not drive or operate heavy machinery after you use an opioid. You may feel drowsy or have trouble concentrating. You can injure yourself or others if you drive or use heavy machinery when you are not alert. Your provider or pharmacist can tell you how long to wait after a dose before you do these activities.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any side effects. The most common side effect is constipation. Other side effects include nausea, sleepiness, itching, and trouble thinking clearly. Your provider may need to make changes to the kind or amount of opioid you are taking. He or she can also help you find ways to prevent or relieve side effects.

How do I store opioids safely?

  • Store opioids where others cannot easily get them. Keep them in a locked cabinet or secure area. Do not keep them in a purse or other bag you carry with you. A person may be looking for something else and find the opioids.
  • Make sure opioids are stored out of the reach of children. A child can easily overdose on opioids. Opioids may look like candy to a small child.

How do I dispose of opioids safely?

Dispose of any expired or leftover opioids safely to keep anyone from using them without a prescription. Safe disposal will also keep a child from finding and using the opioid by accident. You may get instructions or a Medication Guide when you fill your opioid prescription. Your healthcare provider or a pharmacist can give you more information about all your options.

  • Use an approved drug take-back or mail-back program in your area. These programs are offered by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). A take-back program means you bring the opioids to an approved location to return them.
  • Some opioids can be flushed down the toilet. You will need to know the laws in your area and follow the directions to do this safely.

What are some other ways to manage pain?

  • Ask your healthcare provider about non-opioid medicines to control pain. Some medicines may even work better than opioids, depending on the cause of your pain. Nonprescription medicines include NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen) and acetaminophen. Prescription medicines include muscle relaxers, antidepressants, and steroids.
  • Pain may be managed without any medicines. Some ways to relieve pain include massage, aromatherapy, or meditation. Physical or occupational therapy may also help.

Where can I find more information?

  • Drug Enforcement Administration
    8701 Morrissette Drive
    Springfield , VA 22152
    Phone: 1- 800 - 882-9539
    Web Address:
  • US Food and Drug Administration
    10903 New Hampshire Avenue
    Silver Spring , MD 20993
    Phone: 1- 888 - 463-6332
    Web Address:

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US), or have someone else call if:

  • You have a seizure.
  • You cannot be woken.
  • You have trouble staying awake and your breathing is slow or shallow.
  • Your speech is slurred, or you are confused.
  • You are dizzy or stumble when you walk.

When should I or someone close to me call my doctor?

  • You are extremely drowsy, or you have trouble staying awake or speaking.
  • You have pale or clammy skin.
  • You have blue fingernails or lips.
  • Your heartbeat is slower than normal.
  • You cannot stop vomiting.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.