8 Dos and Don'ts of Opioid Safety

by Karen Lee Richards Patient Advocate

Opioids (sometimes referred to as narcotics) are very powerful drugs. While they can be quite helpful for someone trying to cope with chronic pain, opioids can also be extremely dangerous when they are misused or abused.

Practicing opioid safety will not only help protect the person for whom the medication is prescribed, but will also go a long way in helping to prevent prescription drug abuse and possible accidental overdose for family and friends.

1. DO always take opioids at the dosage and frequency prescribed by your doctor.

Taking more of an opioid medication than your doctor prescribed or taking it more often than prescribed can result in an accidental overdose.

2. DON'T drink alcohol or use other drugs when taking an opioid unless it has been approved by your doctor.

Alcohol and other drugs, including over-the-counter medications and even some supplements, may interact with the opioid, which could lead to serious side effects or accidental overdose.

3. DON'T break, crush, dissolve, chew or inject any opioid medication.

Breaking, crushing, dissolving, chewing or injecting an opioid drug can cause too much of the opioid to be released into your system at one time and may result in an overdose, which could be fatal. If you are not able to swallow the tablet or capsule whole, talk to your doctor about other options that might be available––like liquid forms of the medication.

4. DO always read the instructions that come with your medication and ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions.

Even if you've taken a particular opioid medication before, it is a good idea to read the instructions again to see if there have been any changes or new warnings or to see if there is something you may have forgotten.

5. DON'T ever take an opioid pain reliever that is not prescribed for you.

Taking an opioid medication not prescribed for you is very dangerous. Medications are prescribed for an individual based on a number of different factors. Opioids in particular need to be started at very low dosages and gradually increased as needed based on your body's ability to tolerate them. A dose that is safe for one person could result in an overdose and even death for someone else.

6. DO keep your opioid medications locked up in a safe place at all times.

Never leave opioids out where they are visible or easily accessible. And do not make the fact that you take opioids public knowledge. Tell only those who need to know (i.e., your very closest family members). Basically you should treat your opioids as you would a large sum of cash––keep it hidden and locked away. You wouldn't leave a lot of money laying around your house nor would you broadcast the fact that it was there because that would make you a target for robbery. The same is true for opioids. They are highly sought after by people who want to use them to get high or who want to sell them.

7. DON'T ever share your opioid medication with another person.

Giving your prescription medication to another person is illegal––even if it is a close family member. This can be an especially difficult rule to follow when someone you love is in pain. But for the same reasons you should never take someone else's medication, you should never give someone else your medication. Remember that everyone's body reacts differently. A drug that simply gives you a little pain relief could result in an overdose for someone else.

8. DO be prepared for opioid emergencies.

Even people who have been taking opioids for a long time can accidentally overdose. Be sure you and those who live with and/or help take care of you know the signs and symptoms of a possible overdose as well as what to do in the situation. You can find excellent guidelines on opioid emergencies at Opioids911–Safety.

Those of us who depend on opioid medications to provide us with much-needed pain relief have the greatest responsibility to practice opioid safety by using opioids appropriately and protecting them from misuse.

Karen Lee Richards
Meet Our Writer
Karen Lee Richards

Karen is the co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association. She writes for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Pain Management.