Authored by JoannaRasmuson

Prescription Opioid Safety

March 13, 2019 | Family Medicine

Prescription opioids help relieve moderate-to-severe pain. Following surgery, opioids can be an effective pain treatment option, but there are many risks associated with opioids. Even when a doctor prescribes an opioid, it can have side effects that are dangerous. Work with your doctor to get the best treatment possible for your condition.

If you or your child is prescribed opioids as part of a treatment plan for pain, you should know the risks, symptoms of an overdose and how to store your medication safely to prevent an overdose. Use opioids as directed by a doctor and talk to your doctor about any concerns you have.


Risks of Opioids

Opioids can cause some serious side effects, including:

  • Tolerance – over time, you may need to take more of the medication for the same pain relief
  • Nausea, vomiting and dry mouth
  • Sleepiness and dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Itching and sweating
  • Depression
  • Constipation
  • Physical dependence or symptoms of withdrawal when you stop taking the medication


Other risks of opioid use include overdose and addiction. The risk of addiction with opioids is higher with people who have a history of drug misuse or substance abuse, mental health conditions or sleep apnea.

How to Recognize an Overdose

A person’s breathing can slow down to a dangerous rate during an overdose, and the person may lose consciousness. Other signs include limpness and pale blue or cold skin. If you suspect an opioid overdose, call 911 immediately. Until medical help arrives, try to keep the person awake and breathing. To prevent choking, lay the person on their side.


Safety Tips to Prevent Opioid Abuse

Pain pill safety involves being proactive when taking opioids. When using opioids prescribed by a doctor, follow these safety tips to keep yourself and others safe:

  • Monitor the medication. Know where the medication is and how much you have left on hand.
  • Keep the medicine locked up and out of the reach of children.
  • Transition as quick as possible to acetaminophen and ibuprofen, as directed by a doctor, to get off the opioid medication. This makes it less likely that a person will become dependent on pain medication.
  • Dispose of unused medicines properly. Call your pharmacist or law enforcement for places where you can turn in unused medication safely.
  • Never take any prescription medicines not prescribed for you.
  • Don’t adjust the dosage of pain medication on your own.

When talking to your doctor about prescription opioids, make sure he or she knows about all the medications you are taking. It’s also important to know your options when dealing with pain to avoid taking opioids for longer than needed. Your doctor may recommend a combination of physical therapy and exercise, over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and/or cognitive behavioral therapy to treat your pain. Acute pain may react well to heat, ice or massage therapy.


Talk to your doctor about opioids before you start using them to make sure that you understand the risks and the benefits. If you do think you or your child is struggling with addiction, tell your doctor.


Dr. Oneida practices the full range of family medicine including obstetrics, pediatrics, adolescent medicine, adult medicine and some orthopedics. She also performs colposcopy, cryotherapy and vasectomies. Due to the volume of deliveries done, her practice has evolved to be more centered on women and children’s medicine, although she enjoys all aspects of family medicine. 



“Eight Opioid Safety Principles for Patients and Caregivers.” American Academy of Pain Medicine.

“Opioid Safety.” Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

“Helpful Materials for Patients.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Maria Oneida, MD

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.