Prescription opioids

What you need to know about prescription opioids

Opioids can be used to help ease moderate-to-severe pain. They are often prescribed after a surgery or injury, or for certain health conditions. These medicines can be an important part of treatment, but also come with serious risks. Work with your health care provider to make sure you are getting the safest, most effective care.

Risks and side effects of opioid use

Opioids have serious risks of addiction and overdose, especially with long term use. An overdose, often marked by slowed breathing, can cause sudden death. Opioids can have side effects, even when taken as told.

Side effects of opioid use

  • Tolerance 
    • You might need to take more of a medicine for the same pain relief.
  • Physical dependence 
    • You have withdrawal when a medicine is stopped. 
  • More sensitivity to pain
  • Constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Dry mouth 
  • Sleepiness and dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Low levels of testosterone
    • This can lead to lower sex drive, energy, and strength.
  • Itching and sweating

What increases your risk of experiencing opioid side effects?

  • History of drug misuse 
    • Substance use or overdose
  • Sleep apnea disorder
  • Older age (65 years or older)
  • Mental health conditions
    • Depression or anxiety
  • Pregnancy

Do not mix alcohol and certain drugs with opioids

Do not drink alcohol while taking opioids.

Do not take the following drugs, unless told by your health care provider. 

  • Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax or Valium 
  • Muscle relaxants, such as Soma or Flexeril 
  • Hypnotics, such as Ambien or Lunesta 
  • Other prescription opioids
Last reviewed: 
October 2018

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