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Use caution if you take an opioid medication

GEHA | August 2, 2021

The risks of using prescription opioids include dependence and addiction.

Opioids, also known as narcotics, are a class of pain-relieving medications that includes codeine and acetaminophen (Tylenol-3), hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), fentanyl and tramadol. The illegal drug heroin is also an opioid.

Opioids are used to treat moderate-to-severe pain and are often prescribed following surgery, injury or for health conditions such as cancer.

When taken long-term, people often begin to develop a tolerance to the medications. Tolerance means they need to increase their doses to achieve pain relief. People who develop tolerance might also notice symptoms of withdrawal when they do not take the medication. These symptoms can range from mild to severe and include runny nose and eyes, nausea, diarrhea, hot/cold flashes, goosebumps, muscle aches and pains, rapid heart rate, elevated blood pressure, insomnia, excessive yawning, anxiety and agitation.

The risks of using prescription opioids may include dependence and addiction. Dependence means feeling withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug. Addiction is a chronic brain disease that causes a person to compulsively seek out drugs, even though they cause harm.

The risks of dependence and addiction are higher if you misuse the medicines. Misuse can include taking too much medicine, taking someone else's medicine, taking it in a different way than you are supposed to or taking the medicine to get high.

To prevent problems with prescription opioids, be sure to follow your doctor's instructions when taking them. Do not share your medicines with anyone else. Contact your doctor if you have any concerns about taking the medicines.

“Understanding and Overcoming Opioid Abuse.”, American Psychological Association, 1 January, 2017.
“Prescription Opioids.”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 August, 2017.
“Opiods.”, Sussex Publishers LLC, 28 March, 2019.
“Opiod Misuse and Addiction.”, Medline Plus, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 22 July, 2021.