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.


One thought on “Five Important Facts about Opioids (narcotic pain killers)

  1. “If you take a medicine such as one of the opioids listed above for more than two weeks you will become addicted to it.”
    With this stated fact in mind, it would be wise to discuss with your provider if you are on these medications to try an alternative therapy such as ice for inflammation and pain, and non-addictive type medications as listed in “1. Not all painkillers are the same”.
    If you are suffering from only an acute type injury, or a procedure that is known to cause moderate to severe pain, then being on an opioid medication is reasonable for a short period of time, but it is extremely important to have that close follow up with your provider for reassessment and further evaluation if pain is not improving. It may be that you are masking an unresolved issue with pain medication, and if using opioids for an extended period of time patients may and will develop an addiction, now having 2 issues to contend with. The goal is not being completely pain-free, however being at a tolerable pain level where you are capable of performing activities of daily living and being overall functional. Aside from being addictive, these medications are often very sedating.
    Being that this is a pediatric focus website I think it would be prudent to also mention the importance if you are on these medications to safely store them in places where children or teens do not have access. Being a parent of a toddler who had a potential scare of consuming prescription medications and staying in a hospital for monitoring is a very scary and guilty feeling. As this is an epidemic and affecting many people it is important to spread as much information as we can to improve and hopefully resolve this horrible problem.

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