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Opioids: What You Should Know

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About opioids

Opioids are medications that relieve pain. They are intended to treat moderate to severe pain and are often prescribed after surgery, an injury, or for health conditions like cancer.

Examples of prescription opioids include:

  • Hydrocodone (e.g. Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (e.g. OxyContin, Percocet)
  • Oxymorphone (e.g. Opana)
  • Methadone
  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl

In 2013, 1 in 4 Oregonians got a prescription for opioids

The problem

Opioid medications are very powerful. They are very effective in treating acute pain, managing cancer pain, and managing end of life pain care.

However, in Oregon and across the nation, there has been a dramatic increase in overdose deaths and hospitalizations due to prescription opioid pain medications. Since 2000, a steep increase in prescribing opioids for pain has paralleled this increase in deaths and hospitalizations. More people have started using these powerful medications to treat chronic, non-cancer pain, such as back pain or osteoarthritis.

  • Long term use of opioids has some very serious side effects and is not as helpful as many other treatments.
  • Unused opioid medications in the home may be misused.
  • Taking too much opioid pain medication at once can stop a person's breathing and lead to death. Taking opioids together with alcohol or other sedatives increases this risk.

If your doctor prescribes you opioid pain medication

  • Talk to your doctor about the benefits, risks and limitations of prescription pain medications, and other options to manage your pain. Be sure to tell your doctor about other medications you are taking.
  • Let your doctor know if you have a history of substance use disorder or a mental health disorder.
  • Use the smallest amount of medication for the fewest number of days.
  • Do not drive or operate machinery while taking opioids for pain.
  • Store prescription pain medications in a SAFE, SECURE place, out of reach of others. Be aware of how much medication you have, and monitor the quantity.
  • Use prescription pain medications only as instructed by your doctor. To help prevent misuse, do not sell or share your medication. Never use another person's prescription pain medication.
  • Make a plan with your doctor for when and how to stop, if a choice is made to use prescription pain medications.
  • Make sure any unused medication is properly disposed of once it is no longer needed. View a map of places where you can safely drop off unused medications or learn more about drug take-back and disposal.

See also...

Tame the Beast: It's time to rethink persistent pain

Lock it up: Medicine safety in your home

How to manage your pain safely and effectively (CDC website)

Opioid use disorder

People who take opioids, even for short term acute pain management, can develop an opioid use disorder. Using opioid pain medication can lead to a lifelong struggle with misuse and dependency that impacts a person's relationships, employment, finances, family and community.

Getting help for opioid use disorder

Opioid use disorder can be successfully treated. If you or a loved one need help to stop using opioids, talk to your health care provider or view our list of resources for getting help.

Consider getting trained to use Naloxone

Naloxone is a medication that can be used to reverse an opioid overdose. Oregon law allows lay people to carry and use naloxone on others. Learn more about naloxone.

See also...

What happens during an overdose

When someone takes too much prescription pain medication:

  • Pupils become very small, sometimes called "pinpoint" pupils
  • The person may throw up, or make snoring, gurgling or choking sounds
  • Breathing gets very slow or stops
  • The person may turn pale, blue or gray, especially the lips or fingernails
  • The person may become unconscious, become limp or not respond to yelling or other stimulation
IF YOU SEE THESE SIGNS: The most important thing is to act right away. CALL 911.

If you call police or 911 to get help for someone having a drug overdose, Oregon law protects you from being arrested or prosecuted for drug-related charges or parole/probation violations based on information provided to emergency responders. Read the law (pdf).


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