From the Pharmacist: Understanding opioid painkillers
Learn about the various side effects and risks involving these pain medications.
Opioid pain medications are prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain, often following an injury or surgery, or for other health conditions. Managing pain appropriately is an important part of healing and recovery, but it is important to know that pain medications are not intended to relieve all your pain.
Pain is the main way your body communicates limitations following an injury. This prevents you from re-injuring yourself or worsening the injury you have. Pain medications are meant to decrease your pain to a manageable level so that you can continue with other parts of your life.
Side effects of opioid pain medication can include itching, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, constipation, sleepiness, slowed breathing and even death. People with sleep apnea, pregnant women and those over 65 are at higher risk to experience these side effects or to have greater health consequences from these side effects.
People taking these medications can also experience confusion, depression, increased sensitivity to pain, tolerance and physical dependence. If you have a history of depression, substance abuse, addiction or other mental health disorders, these risks are higher. Tell your doctor if you fall into any high risk category, or if you notice yourself craving the medication. Opioid pain medications should not be combined with alcohol or other central nervous system depressants. Do not combine these medications with other opioids, muscle relaxants, anxiety or sleeping medications unless specifically advised by your health care provider.
In order to avoid side effects, take your medication exactly as prescribed and use the lowest dose possible. Many side effects are dose related, so as the dose increases, the side effects will get worse. You can also use over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen while taking your opioid pain medication to decrease the amount of opioid that you need. But, many opioid medications come combined with over-the-counter pain relievers, so talk with your provider or pharmacist to avoid taking too much of the over-the-counter medications.
You can also use other comfort measures in combination with pain medications. Hot or cold packs, stretching or physical therapy as directed by your provider, massage and meditation are all effective ways to decrease pain.
As you heal and recover from your injury, you should notice your pain getting lower and lower, requiring less pain medication. If you do not notice your pain improving, it can be a sign that there are other problems with your injury and healing. You should notify your provider.
You should never sell or share prescription opioids or use anyone else’s prescription. If you have any medication left over, you can safely dispose of it at your local drug take-back program.
You can find disposal guidance at www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/Consumers or ask your Sam’s Club Pharmacist.