When you have a mild headache or muscle ache, an over-the-counter pain reliever is usually enough to make you feel better. But if your pain is more severe, your doctor might recommend something stronger: a prescription opioid.
Opioids are a type of narcotic pain medication. They can have serious side effects if you don’t use them correctly. For people who have an opioid addiction, their problem often started with a prescription.
If you need to take opioids to control your pain, here are some ways to make sure you’re taking them as safely as possible.
How Do Opioids Work?
Opioid drugs bind to opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other areas of the body. They tell your brain you’re not in pain.
They are used to treat moderate to severe pain that may not respond well to other pain medications.
You may receive around-the-clock doses to manage pain throughout the day and night. And your doctor may prescribe opioids to be taken “as needed” in case you have “breakthrough” pain — a flare of pain that you get despite round-the-clock doses.
While you’re on opioid pain medications, check in with your doctor regularly. Your doctor will need to know:
- How your pain is responding to the drug
- Whether you’re having any side effects
- Whether you have any potential interactions or medical conditions that could make you more likely to have side effects, such as sleep apnea, alcohol use, or kidney problems
- Whether you’re taking the drug properly