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Risks of Prescription Painkillers

  • Why are Opioid Painkillers Risky?

    According to research and NSC Medical Advisor Dr. Don Teater:
    • The drugs are overprescribed
    • It does not take long to become addicted to these drugs
    • Many over-the-counter pain relievers are just as effective
    • Prescription painkillers are gateway drugs to heroin
  • ​People who take opioid painkillers quickly can develop a tolerance and dependence to this class of drugs. When a person becomes dependent, he or she experiences unpleasant symptoms when they stop taking the drugs. Learn more about how tolerance and dependence increase risk for prescription drug abuse and overdose.

  • The Face of Opioid Painkiller Addiction

    Most opioid painkiller addictions start with valid prescriptions. This high school athlete took a valid prescription for opioid painkillers, but eventually moved on to heroin. Read his tragic story

  • What are the Signs of Opioid Painkiller Addiction?

    It's not always easy to tell if someone is addicted to opioid painkillers. Studies have shown that common symptoms include:

    • Stealing, forging or selling prescriptions
    • Taking higher doses than prescribed
    • Excessive mood swings or hostility
    • Increase or decrease in sleep
    • Poor decision making
    • Appearing to be high, unusually energetic or revved up, or sedated
    • Continually "losing" prescriptions so more prescriptions must be written
    • Seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor

    There are many treatment options and places to go for help. Find them

  • Who is at Risk of Addiction?

    There is no way to predict who will become addicted to opioid painkillers, but research indicates that certain factors increase risk:

    • Personal or family history of addiction or substance abuse
    • Depression or anxiety
    • Long-term use of prescription opioids
    • Taking or using multiple drugs, especially drugs for anxiety, depression or other mental health issues
  • Should You Work or Drive While Taking Opioid Painkillers?

    Certain side effects of opioid painkillers could hinder your ability to drive or work safely. These side effects include:

    • Dizziness
    • Sleepiness
    • Blurred vision
    • Confusion or unusual thoughts
    • Impulsive behavior
    • Delayed reaction
    • Difficulty following directions

    Ask your doctor if it's OK for you to drive or work while taking opioid painkillers.

The Mathematics of Pain Relief

For most people, opioid painkillers are not the best way to treat pain. Doctors determine medications’ efficacy through a formula called Number Needed to Treat.

Learn more.

  • ​Meet the Expert: Don Teater, M.D.


    Dr. Donald Teater has worked intensively with opioid and mental health treatment and recovery for more than 10 years. In addition to serving as NSC Medical Advisor, Dr. Teater runs an addiction clinic in western North Carolina.

  • Ask the NSC Expert

    NSC Medical Advisor Dr. Don Teater answers your questions about prescription painkillers.

    Question: Can I continue to use Xanax, my medicine for anxiety, while using an opioid painkiller?

    Answer: Many common anti-anxiety medicines – Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, Valium, and others - are a type of drug called benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines generally should not be used while taking opioid painkillers. This combination of medicines is very impairing and can lead to falls, injuries and traffic crashes. Also, this combination makes you much more likely to have a fatal overdose even if taking relatively low doses. 

    Be aware that you should not stop your benzodiazepine without talking with your doctor. If you have been taking these drugs for a very long period of time and suddenly stop, the withdrawal can cause death

    It is best to talk with your doctor and discuss alternative pain treatment other than opioid painkillers. 

    Have a question about prescription painkillers? Email

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