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When you’re in a lot of pain, you want medication that offers a lot of relief. Opioids are amazing pain relievers. But they’re also highly addictive — even if you only take them for a short time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)* says opioid dependency can begin within three days of taking the drugs. If you use opioids long term, you have a 1 in 4 chance of becoming addicted.

Which Medications are Opioids?

You’re taking opioids if your doctor has prescribed one of these:

  • Codeine
  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin and Roxicodone)
  • Hydrocodone
  • Tramadol
  • Methadone
  • Hydromorphone
  • Tapentadol
  • Anileridine
  • Levorphanol
  • Buprenorphine
  • Fentanyl

How Do Opioids Work?

Opiates change how the brain perceives pain. They produce feelings of pleasure or euphoria. The impact on the brain’s reward system is what leads to addiction. The stronger the opiate, the faster and more powerful the effects. Over time, the body gets used to opioids. So, they stop working as well. To get the same relief, you need to take more.

Opioids also slow essential bodily functions like heart rate and breathing. That’s why taking too much can be deadly. The risk of overdose with opioids is high. The amount that can cause an overdose isn’t much higher than the amount used to treat pain.

  • Hundreds of Americans go to hospital emergency rooms every day for opioid overdoses. Not all of them are addicts.
  • About 100 people die every day from opioid overdoses.
  • About 40 percent of all opioid overdoses involve a prescription medication.
  • Opioid overdose is a leading cause of death for Americans under age 30.

Reversing the Trend

Thankfully, the number of deaths attributed to the opioid epidemic has gradually begun to decline. Doctors are prescribing opioids less frequently for the treatment of chronic pain, such as arthritis, low back pain or frequent headaches. Alternatives such as cognitive behavioral therapy, acupuncture, medical massage and physical therapy have proven to be effective for many people. Even the CDC reported these alternative strategies were all useful in providing relief for chronic pain.

Talk With Your Doctor

If you’re dealing with chronic pain or taking an opioid for even a short time, you may want to talk with your doctor about other options.

In addition to being addictive, opioids can also cause unpleasant side effects such as:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Itching
  • Constipation
  • Problems breathing
  • Problems urinating
  • Mental disturbance and confusion

If your doctor says opioids are necessary, know how to protect yourself:

  • Take the lowest dose.
  • Know the side effects and risks.
  • Use only as directed.
  • Don’t share prescription medications. Only take ones prescribed to you.
  • Dispose of all medicines you no longer need.

*The CDC is an independent organization that offers health information that members of BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina may find helpful.

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