Myth #1: Opioids that are prescribed to me are safe.
All opioids carry risks, even if they have been prescribed to you for legitimate medical reasons. The biggest risks are of addiction and overdose. To minimize these risks, your provider should prescribe you the lowest effective dose of opioids, and for the shortest time period necessary (three days is common for acute pain). Once you receive your prescription, you can follow these guidelines to safely use these pain relievers (taken from Medline Plus, National Library of Medicine):
- Take your medicine as prescribed – do not take extra doses
- Check the instructions every time you take a dose
- Do not break, chew, crush, or dissolve opioid pills
- Opioids can cause drowsiness. Do not drive or use any machinery that may injure you, especially when you first start the medicine.
- Contact your provider if you have side effects
- If you can, use the same pharmacy for all of your medicines. The pharmacy’s computer system will alert the pharmacist if you are taking two or more medicines that could cause a dangerous interaction.
Sources: CDC: Opioids for Acute Pain, MedlinePlus: Safe Opioid Use
Myth #2: Opioids are the best way to treat pain.
There are many times where opioids are a recommended course of treatment. However, there are many effective, non-opioid options for treating pain that a doctor may recommend. Below are some examples:
- Non-opioid pain relievers such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen
- Use of heat or ice on the affected area (especially for acute pain)
- Other medications (some anticonvulsants and antidepressants may be effective)
- Physical therapy
- Exercise therapy
- Acupuncture or massage
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
Sources: CDC: Treating Chronic Pain Without Opioids, CDC: Opioids for Acute Pain
Myth #3: People that get addicted to opioids can stop if they try hard enough.
Like with other substances, opioid addiction is a disease. Long-term misuse and abuse of opioids can alter a person’s brain chemistry and make it difficult for them to stop using the drug, despite negative consequences. Like other chronic diseases such as diabetes, there is no cure for opioid addiction. However, it is treatable and can be managed effectively with support.
To find treatment options for yourself or someone you know, go to findtreatment.samhsa.gov.
Source: NIH: Understanding Drug Use and Addiction
Myth #4: Going “cold-turkey” is they best way to cure opioid addiction
When a person is addicted to opioids and suddenly stops using, or goes “cold turkey,” they are likely to start experiencing opioid withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be severe, and trying to quit this way is associated with a very high risk of relapse. If someone is trying to quit opioids, it is recommended that they do so with professional support to help manage symptoms and support recovery. Professionals can also provide access to medications such as methadone and buprenorphine, which can ease withdrawal symptoms and increase a person’s chance of success. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the recommended course of treatment for opioid addiction.
Source: ASAM: National Practice Guideline for the Use of Medications in the Treatment of Addiction Involving Opioid Use
Myth #5: Only people with addictions are at risk of overdosing on opioids.
Anyone who uses opioids is at risk of overdose, although some people may be at higher risk than others. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, people that meet any of the following criteria are at increased risk of opioid overdose:
- Patients receiving high doses of opioids (>50 morphine milligram equivalents per day)
- Patients with respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive respiratory disease (COPD) or sleep apnea
- Patients that have been prescribed benzodiazepines
- Patients with any kind of substance use disorder or mental health disorder
- People misusing prescription opioids
- People using heroin, illicit synthetic opioids, or other illicit drugs
- People receiving treatment for opioid use disorder
- People with a history of opioid misuse who were recently released from a controlled environment where tolerance to opioids may be lost (such as prison)
For these high-risk groups, it is recommended for healthcare providers to co-prescribe naloxone so that an overdose can be reversed.