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What You Need to Know about Opioids

As opioid misuse and addiction is rapidly on the rise, it’s important to know the risks associated with this type of medication.

Pill bottle spilling on the counter. Opioids, what you should know

It's tough to live with chronic pain, but millions of Americans do. Opioids are powerful medications that can be useful at relieving pain in the short term. They may also help people with active cancer and people receiving hospice or palliative care cope with pain.

But opioids come with some serious risks, including addiction, unintentional overdose, and death. As many as 1 in 4 people who take opioids for a long time become addicted to the drugs (a condition known as opioid use disorder). And more than 165,000 people in the U.S. died from opioid overdose between 1999 and 2014.

Related: Opioid Abuse and the Importance of Medication Safety

Names to know

Well-known brand-name painkillers, like Vicodin (hydrocodone) and OxyContin (oxycodone), are opioids. So are generic drugs such as:

• Buprenorphine

• Codeine

• Fentanyl

• Hydromorphone

• Methadone

• Morphine

• Oxymorphone

Finding solutions

To help curb opioid addiction and overdose deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued new guidelines for prescribing the medications to treat chronic pain. The guidelines encourage doctors to start low and go slow when prescribing opioids in order to reduce the risks linked to long-term use. (The guidelines may not apply to cancer patients or those receiving hospice or palliative care.)

If you're living with chronic pain, talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of taking opioids. Be honest about any personal history of drug or alcohol use. Also discuss other ways to help manage your pain, such as physical therapy, exercise, and nonopioid medications.

Then if your doctor does prescribe an opioid, be sure to:

• Avoid mixing the medication with alcohol. And don't take it with other substances or medications without your doctor's OK.

• Avoid taking more of the medication than prescribed.

• Avoid sharing the medication with friends or family. And keep it locked away and well out of reach of curious children and teens.

Please note: If you have questions about the coverage of these medications, contact Member Services. In some cases, step therapy (trying another medication first before certain medications are prescribed) may be required.

Related: Opioid Tablets Being Reduced at Intermountain Healthcare

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