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When we talk about the opioid crisis, or opioid epidemic, we’re talking about opioid overdose as a major public health issue. This has lead to overdoes deaths among people who use illegal and prescription opioids.

Women getting prescription.

About Opioids, Opioid Use Disorder & Addiction

  • Opioids include prescription medications used to treat pain, such as morphine, codeine, methadone, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl, as well as illegal drugs such as heroin and illegally-manufactured or distributed opioids.
  • Opioids can be safe when taken as prescribed for short periods of time, but they also have serious risks and side effects. We now know that opioids are not as effective or as safe as we once thought they were for treating pain.
  • Opioids can be highly addictive and might be used for non-medical reasons. For example: taking too much medication, taking it too often, taking someone else’s medication, or using any non-prescription opioid.
  • When a pattern of opioid use creates problems in a person’s daily life, they may develop an opioid use disorder (also referred to as “opioid addiction”)
  • We know that opioid and other substance use disorders are chronic medical conditions that change the way the brain functions, making it difficult to make decisions and control impulses.

Addiction and the Brain
Sobredosis De Droga

Opioid Safety

Tips for safe prescription opioid use:

  • Read the Medication Guide that comes with your prescription
  • Take your medication exactly as prescribed. Do not take more than recommended or use for things other than pain, such as sleep
  • Do not combine opioid pain medications with alcohol or other medications. This can increase the risk of death
  • Do not drive while taking pain medications
  • Never take someone else’s medication
  • Watch for signs of overmedication, such as slurred speech, confusion, excessive sleepiness, and difficulty waking from sleep
  • Use pain patches only as directed and do not use pain patches when taking other long-acting opioid drugs
  • Do not cut, chew, crush, or dissolve opioid tablets or capsules. If you cannot swallow your medication whole, talk to your doctor
  • CDC Patient Information

Tell your doctor if:

  • The dose you are taking does not control your pain
  • A skin rash develops in an area where you have placed a pain patch
  • You have any side effects
  • You take over-the-counter medications, vitamins, or dietary supplements
  • You are interested in non-opioid methods of pain management

Here are some videos with additional information:

Tips for safe storage:

  • Store medication inside a locked cabinet, lockbox (available at local pharmacies), or a location where others can’t easily access it
  • Keep the medication in its original packaging

Tips for safe disposal:

  • Do not flush medications or throw away
  • To safely throw away, you may use a disposal kit (available at local pharmacies)
  • Dispose of expired or unused medications at a drop-off site


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