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Avoid the Risks of Taking Opioid Pain Relievers

Americans Don't Know Their Pain Relievers Contain Opioids

Opioid Medication Chart

People prescribed opioid pain relievers may be at risk of developing an opioid use disorder – without knowing it.

In analyzing the results of a public opinion poll conducted by NSC in 2017, several conclusions jump off the page:

  • Americans don't know their pain relievers contain opioids or that it is a felony to share them
  • People who are prescribed opioids are unconcerned about addiction, but most have reason to worry
  • People who are prescribed opioids overestimate the benefits of opioids and underestimate the risks of addiction or death

Dispose of Expired, Unwanted Prescriptions

More than half of people who misuse opioid pain relievers get them from a friend or family member. Store medications in a locked medicine cabinet or a lock box. Safely dispose of unneeded medications instead of letting them fall into the wrong hands:

  • Find a disposal location near you and learn about other takeback options at deatakeback.com or through the Google Maps’ Locator
  • You can often obtain a free, at-home disposal pouch from your local county health department, or you can purchase them directly from online vendors

It’s typically not recommended to simply throw leftover medications in the trash or flush them down the toilet. But, if you do not have access to the above disposal methods, as a last resort this method can be used if abiding by FDA guidelines. Before disposing any medications, make sure to remove any labels on the bottles or use a permanent marker to black out personal health information.

Request an Opioid Warn-Me Label

There are alternatives to opioids that may offer equal or better pain relief. To ensure you are prescribed an opioid only if you really need it, get “Opioids: Warn-Me” labels from the National Safety Council. A Warn-Me label on an insurance card or prescription card is a sign to doctors and pharmacists that you want answers to the following questions:

  • Am I being prescribed an opioid?
  • If so, is there a non-addictive alternative?
  • If not, is a short-term prescription possible?
  • Do I have any medical conditions, mental health issues or a family history that could increase my risk?

Never Mix Your Medications

Mixing alcohol or other drugs with opioid pain relievers can have dangerous effects:

  • Never mix opioid medications with alcohol, sleep aids, anti-anxiety drugs or other pain relievers
  • Do not take opioid pain relievers more frequently than prescribed, in greater quantity than prescribed, or for any reason other than why they were prescribed; if you are still in pain after taking your medications, discuss options with your doctor or medical provider
  • Talk to your prescriber and pharmacist to ensure you won't have drug interactions from other medications

Is There a Way to Use Opioid Pain Relievers Safely?

A medical professional may prescribe opioids as part of an effective pain management plan. Patients should be monitored closely and opioids should be used at the lowest dose for the shortest amount of time. Some people may be prescribed opioids long-term for chronic pain; this decision should be made carefully and after non-opioid treatments have not worked.

Treat over-the-counter and prescription drugs with caution:

  • Ask your doctor, nurse, dentist 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
  • Store over-the-counter and prescription medicines up and out of sight, and secure them safely

Talk to Your Kids about the Risks of Opioid Painkillers

A Young Woman with Opioid Pills in Her HandWarn 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 that prescription opioids are chemically 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 misuse is prevalent among teens
  • Learn how to recognize the signs of an opioid overdose

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