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7 facts and myths about opioids
At some time in your life, a doctor might prescribe opioids for you—to relieve pain from an injury, surgery or another cause. Would you be concerned because of what you've heard about opioid abuse?
Anytime you have questions about a medicine, share them with your doctor. But here's something you should know about opioids: They can be effective and taken safely. Read on for more helpful facts.
Myth or fact: Opioids should be used only in rare cases.
MYTH. Opioids can play an important role in pain relief and recovery after surgery or injury or during treatment for cancer or other serious health conditions. Opioids may be safest and most effective when used to reduce severe pain for short periods of time.
Myth or fact: Everyone who takes opioids becomes addicted.
MYTH. Anyone can misuse or abuse a medication, taking it more often or in higher doses than they should. But whether you become dependent or addicted can depend on other risk factors. Addiction is rare when opioids are used for short periods, 5 days or less. Your risk of abuse increases the longer you take the medication.
Myth or fact: A previous history of drug abuse is a risk factor for addiction.
FACT. In general risks from opioid use—of addiction, overdose or harmful side effects—are greater if you:
- Have a history of drug or other substance abuse.
- Have a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety.
- Have sleep apnea.
- Are age 65 or older.
- Are pregnant.
If any of the above apply to you, be sure to discuss it with your doctor.
Myth or fact: The more opioids you take, the better they work.
MYTH. If you take more pain medicine than prescribed, you risk overdosing. You also risk developing a tolerance for the drug, which means you'll need to take more medication to get the relief you used to get with less. You should only take opioids exactly as prescribed by your doctor.
Myth or fact: Opioids are not your only option for pain relief.
FACT. If you're uncomfortable taking opioids, talk with your doctor about other methods for pain relief. Some options may work better for you than opioids. These options might include other medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, cognitive behavioral therapy, physical therapy, and exercise.
Myth or fact: All opioids are made from the opium poppy plant.
MYTH. Opioids are naturally found in the opium poppy plant, but they can also be manufactured in a laboratory. The most commonly used prescription opioids are oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco, Lorcet), codeine and morphine.
Myth or fact: Kitty litter can help you dispose of unused opioids.
FACT. You should dispose of any opioids as soon as they're not needed anymore. Check with your pharmacy to see if they have a drug take-back program. Or combine your leftover opioids with kitty litter or coffee grounds in a plastic bag to go in the trash.
You can reduce your risk for opioid addiction.
Sources: American College of Surgeons; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Institute on Drug Abuse
The information found in the Health Library is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor does it represent the views or position of WHMC. Readers should always consult with their healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including for specific medical needs.