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Safe Use Of Opioids


What do I need to know about opioids?

An opioid is a type of medicine used to treat pain. Examples of opioids 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. You may need 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.

What are common side effects of opioids?

The most common side effect is constipation. Other side effects include nausea, sleepiness, and itching. You may have trouble thinking clearly and may feel clumsy.

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

  • Health problems may occur. You may have trouble breathing. You may also develop liver or kidney damage, or stomach bleeding. Any of these health problems can become life-threatening.
  • Opioid dependence means your body needs the opioid medicine to keep it from going through withdrawal.
  • Opioid tolerance means the opioid does not control pain as well as it used to. You need higher doses of the opioid to get pain relief.
  • Opioid addiction means you are not able to control the use of the opioid medicine. You use it when you do not have pain. You crave the opioid medicine.

What do I need to know about opioid 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 opioid medicine if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Opioid medicine can transfer to your baby through your blood and breast milk.
  • 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. 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 opioids with certain other medicines, such as antihistamines.
  • Keep opioid medicine in a safe place. Store your opioid medicine in a locked cabinet to keep it away from children and others.
  • Do not drink alcohol while you use opioids. Alcohol with an opioid 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 opioid medicine. Opioid 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 opioid 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.
  • You cannot do your usual activities because of side effects from the opioid.
  • 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.