Published on March 01, 2019

Know the risks of opioids

pill bottleOpioid pain medicines are in the news a lot, and for good reason.

They can help treat different kinds of pain. But they also have serious risks, such as addiction and overdose. Opioids can also cause side effects like constipation. And they can be misused and abused.

What’s more, some of the risks from opioids are higher among older adults.

Could there be a better medicine?

If you need pain relief, opioids may not be the best option for you. “There are safer ways to treat chronic pain,” says Donna Raziano, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Mercy Home Health. “And some may even work better.”

Ask your doctor about:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Physical therapy and exercise
  • Counseling that helps you cope with pain and stress

Safety tips

If your doctor says you do need to take an opioid, there are things you can do to help reduce your risk of opioid problems.

For instance, tell your doctor if you have ever been addicted to or abused a substance (even tobacco) in the past. And tell your doctor about any other medicines you take.

“It is very dangerous to use some medicines with opioids,” Dr. Raziano says. “Examples are sleeping pills and medicines for anxiety or seizures.”

If an opioid is your only option, be sure that you:

  • Take your opioid as directed. Never take more than prescribed.
  • Don’t drink alcohol when taking one.
  • Never share your opioid with anyone.
  • Keep your opioid in a secure place so other people can’t get to it.