Five Important Facts about Opioids (narcotic pain killers)

1. Not all painkillers are the same

• There are many types of medicines to help with pain. You might choose to buy something at the drug store like aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), or a “non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug” – NSAID (Motrin, Advil, Ibuprofen).

• Or your doctor/nurse practitioner may prescribe pain medicine. It may be a higher dose of NSAID like Ibuprofen. Or you may be prescribed a narcotic, also called an opioid, like Norco, Oxycontin, Vicodin, morphine, codeine, methadone, fentanyl or Percocet.

2. You can become addicted to the painkiller your doctor prescribes

• Opioid pain medicines are very addictive. Studies show that addiction starts after about two weeks. If you take a medicine such as one of the opioids listed above for more than two weeks you will become addicted to it. This means your body will feel the need for the medicine if you suddenly stop taking it.

• Over time, your body will need a higher dose or you’ll need to take it more often to get the same amount of pain relief. If you try to stop taking the medicine your body will crave it. The cravings may be so strong that you feel you will do anything to get more of it.

3. You do not have control over whether you become addicted to your pain medicine

• Your body becomes addicted to opioid pain medicine (narcotics) whether you want to or not. Your brain causes the cravings unconsciously, and you do not have control over the process.

4. Opioid pain medicines are basically the same as heroin and fentanyl

• Heroin and fentanyl work the same as the opioids prescribed by your doctor. They are good at relieving pain, but over time your body craves a higher dose and more frequent doses, and you do not have control over the cravings.

• Some people who take pain medicine for a long time no longer feel pain relief from them, so they try heroin or fentanyl. People who are addicted to prescription opioids are 40 times more likely to use heroin. In 2015, 63% of the drug overdose deaths in the US were caused by an a opioid pain medicine or heroin.

5. Sometimes putting up with a little pain is better than the alternative

• Your doctor or nurse practitioner wants you to be pain free. But sometimes taking an opioid medicine may not be the best choice for you.

• You should inform your doctor that you do not want to become addicted to your pain medicine, and you should decide if taking an opioid is really worth it.

 
December 2017. The Region 5 PEHSU is part of a national network of experts in children’s and reproductive environmental health who provide medical consultation for health professionals, parents, caregivers, and patients on health risks due to natural or human-made environmental hazards. Call our hotline at (866) 967-7337 for questions about environmental exposures.

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