What To Ask Your Doctor Before Taking Opioids

Prescription opioids are powerful pain-reducing medications that include prescription oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine, among others, and have both benefits as well as potentially serious risks. These medications can help manage pain when prescribed for the right condition and when used properly. But when misused or abused, they can cause serious harm, including addiction, overdose and death, according to public health officials with the Harnett County Health Department.

Although many types of prescription drugs are abused, there is currently a growing, deadly epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse. Nearly 3-out-of-4 prescription drug overdoses are caused by prescription painkillers also called opioid pain relievers. Every patient should ask questions when getting a new prescription. This is especially important when your doctor, dentist or other health care professional prescribes you an opioid, such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine and morphine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), provides a list of questions when getting a new prescription.

This conversation could begin like this: “What medication are you giving me? If it’s an opioid, are there non-opioid options that could help with pain relief while I recover?” If your doctor thinks your pain is best managed with a prescription opioid, then find out when and how to stop using, or taper off, opioids. Ask that your doctor prescribe the lowest dose and the smallest quantity you may need and find out when to call to follow up on how well it is working. It is also very important that you tell your health care provider about all of the medicines you are taking, especially those prescribed to treat anxiety, sleeping problems or seizure.

Even medicines you take only occasionally could interact with the opioid pain medicine. Ask your health care provider about possible interactions. According to public health officials, if you have children at home from a toddler to a teenager consider a lockbox for your medications. Even one accidental dose of an opioid pain medicine meant for an adult can cause a fatal overdose in a child. Also, teenagers and others in the home or who are visiting may seek out opioid pain medicines for nonmedical use. Discuss with your doctor whether you should also receive a prescription for naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and could save lives. In many cases it makes sense to be prepared for potential problems by keeping naloxone in your home.

Your leftover opioids can be targeted by people who you would never expect to take it: friends, relatives, and even your kids and their friends. The Harnett County Health Department is working to inform county residents to get rid of medicines that have expired or are no longer needed. Dispose unused and unwanted medications in an environmentally safe way, not only does this avoid the possible hazards of improper disposal, but also eliminates medicine cabinet clutter. For a list of drug disposal sites in Harnett County, log onto the health department’s website at www.harnett.org/health. To view a complete list of “What to Ask Your Doctor before Taking Opioids” is also posted on the Harnett County Health Department’s website at www.harnett.org/health or call 910-893-7550.

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