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What Can you Do to Protect Yourself and Others from Dangers of Opioids?

  • A majority of U.S. opioid painkiller users are at risk of addiction, and they don't even know it.

    In analyzing the results of a public opinion poll, several conclusions jump off the page:
    • Americans don't know their painkillers contain opioids, or that it is a felony to share them
    • Opioid users are unconcerned about addiction, but most have reason to worry
    • Opioid users overestimate the benefits of opioids and underestimate the risks of addiction or death

    A suburban Chicago mother who lost her son to an overdose is doing everything she can to increase public awareness of the risks associated with using opioids like codeine, Vicodin, Demerol, methadone, morphine and oxycodone.

    A Life Cut Short


    Felicia Miceli's 24-year-old son, Louie, died in August 2012. The problem started when he was injured playing high school football and was overprescribed opioids. Learn more about Louie's addiction to opioids, which led to his addiction to heroin, in the National Safety Council Prescription Drug Community Action Kit.

    The kit is designed to arm advocates with information and resources, and to highlight the importance of a coordinated community effort, such as the Safe Communities America initiative in Madison and Dane County, Wis.

    Today, Felicia speaks on the dangers of prescription drug abuse at events like the International Overdose Awareness Day rally, which took place Aug. 31, 2015, in Chicago.

    No Such Thing as a Dumb Question

    If your doctor recommends an opioid painkiller, ask if you can take ibuprofen or naproxen instead. Ask about conditions that will increase your risk of becoming addicted to opioids, including:

    • Depression or other mental illness
    • Anxiety
    • Long-term use of opioid painkillers
    • Personal or family history of addiction, including nicotine and alcohol

    Be sure also to discuss whether you work in a safety-sensitive position and how your driving will be affected.

    Never Mix Your Medications

    Mixing alcohol and other drugs with opioid painkillers can intensify the effects:

    • Never mix opioid medications with alcohol, sleep aids, anti-anxiety drugs or other pain relievers
    • Do not take extended-release opioids "as needed" for pain or more frequently than prescribed by your doctor
    • Talk to your prescriber and pharmacist to ensure you won't have drug interactions from other medications

    How Do I Use Opioid Painkillers Safely?

    In select, individual cases, opioids may be one part of an effective pain management plan, particularly in cases involving lower-back pain. NSC Medical Advisor Dr. Don Teater says that even then patients should be monitored closely and opioids should be used at the lowest dose for the shortest amount of time.

    He also recommends treating over-the-counter and prescription drugs with caution:

    • Ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you have questions about medicine
    • Know the dose that is right for you
    • Read and follow instructions every time
    • Never take multiple medicines with the same active ingredient unless directed by a doctor
    • Always put over-the-counter and prescription medicines up and away and out of sight

    National Prescription Drug Take-back Day is April 30


    Prescription drugs can be extremely dangerous if they fall into the wrong hands, so what do you do with prescriptions that are expired or unwanted?

    One of the best ways to get rid of them is through community-based take-back programs. The National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day April 30 provides safe and convenient locations throughout the United States. The program is an initiative of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

    Locate a local collection site near you. Hours are generally from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. You can also search for a public disposal location here any time of year.

    Properly disposing of prescriptions is a major component in fighting the drug abuse epidemic.

    Talk to Your Kids about the Risks of Opioid Painkillers

    teen counting pills.jpg Warn children that taking a drug that wasn't prescribed to them is just as dangerous as illegal drugs:

    • Discuss the dangers of mixing prescription drugs with alcohol
    • Explain how painkillers are made from opioids, which are similar to heroin
    • Talk to grandparents and caregivers about how to safely store their medications
    • Secure any opioid painkillers, sedatives, sleep medications or stimulants in a locked drawer or container
    • Warn children prescription opioid painkiller abuse is prevalent among teens
  • Talk to Your Doctor

    ​Before taking opioid painkillers, ask your doctor if another option is better for you.

    Learn More
  • Can you Recognize the Signs of an Overdose?

    • Slow and loud breathing
    • Sleepiness, progressing to stupor or coma
    • Weak, floppy muscles
    • Cold and clammy skin
    • Pinpoint pupils
    • Slow heart rate
    • Dangerously low blood pressure
    • Ultimately, death

    If you suspect someone may have overdosed, call 911, move the person into the recovery position and be prepared to start CPR. If you have naloxone (the opiate antidote), administer it immediately.

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The National Safety Council eliminates preventable deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road through leadership, research, education and advocacy.

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