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Safe Use Of Narcotics


What do I need to know about narcotics?

A narcotic is a type of medicine used to treat pain. Examples of narcotics are codeine, oxycodone, and fentanyl.

How are narcotics given?

Narcotics 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. You may need one or both of the following:

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

What are the side effects of narcotic medicines?

The most common side effect is constipation. Other side effects include nausea, sleepiness, and itchiness. You may need to take your narcotic medicine with food to decrease nausea. Ask your healthcare provider other ways to manage side effects.

Why it is important that I take narcotic medicines as directed?

  • Health problems such as trouble breathing, liver or kidney damage, or stomach bleeding may occur at the wrong dose. Any of these problems can become life-threatening.
  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be included in some narcotic medicines. Too much of these medicines can cause liver or kidney damage, or stomach bleeding. These problems can become life-threatening.
  • Dependence means your body needs the medicine to keep it from going through withdrawal.
  • Tolerance means the medicine does not control pain as well as it used to. You need higher doses of the medicine to get pain relief.
  • Addiction means you are not able to control the use of the medicine. You use it when you do not have pain and you have cravings for the medicine.

What do I need to know about narcotic safety?

  • Take your medicine as directed. Ask if you need more information on how to take your medicine correctly. Follow up with your healthcare provider regularly. You may need to have your dose adjusted. Do not use narcotic medicine if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Narcotic medicine can transfer to your baby through your blood and breast milk.
  • Do not suddenly stop taking narcotic pain medicine. If you have been taking narcotic pain medicine for longer than 2 weeks, a sudden stop may cause dangerous side effects. Ask your healthcare provider for more information before you stop taking your medicine.
  • Give your healthcare provider a list of all your medicines. Include any over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbs. It can be dangerous to take narcotics with certain other medicines, such as antihistamines.
  • Keep narcotic medicine in a safe place. Store your narcotic medicine in a locked cabinet to keep it away from children and others.
  • Do not drink alcohol while you use narcotics. Alcohol with an narcotic medicine can make you sleepy and slow your breathing rate. You may stop breathing completely.
  • Do not drive or operate heavy machinery after you take narcotic medicine. Narcotic medicine can make you drowsy and make it hard to concentrate. You may injure yourself or others if you drive or operate heavy machinery while taking your medicine.
  • Prevent constipation. Drink more liquids and eat more high-fiber foods to help prevent constipation. Ask your healthcare provider what liquids are right for you and how much you should drink. Also ask for a list of foods that contain fiber.
  • Follow instructions for what to do with medicine you do not use. Your healthcare provider will give you instructions for how to dispose of narcotic pain medicine safely. This helps make sure no one else takes the medicine.

Call 911 or have someone call 911 for any of the following:

  • You are breathing slower than normal, or you have trouble breathing.
  • You cannot be woken.
  • You have a seizure.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your heart is beating slower than usual.
  • Your heart feels like it is jumping or fluttering.
  • You have trouble staying awake.
  • You have severe muscle pain or weakness.
  • You see or hear things that are not real.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You are too dizzy to stand up.
  • Your pain gets worse or you have new pain.
  • Your pain does not get better after you use your narcotic medicine.
  • You cannot do your usual activities because of side effects from the narcotic.
  • You are constipated or have abdominal pain.
  • 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 caregivers 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.

Further information

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