Prescription opioids are some of the most effective painkillers known to medicine. Unfortunately, they also have a high degree of potential for addiction and abuse. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that between 26.4 million and 36 million people worldwide abuse opioids. Of that total, 2.1 million Americans are estimated to be abusing prescription painkillers and 467,000 are estimated to be addicted to heroin.

Because all opioids work on the same areas of the brain as addictive, illicit drugs like heroin, they carry with them a serious potential for abuse and misuse. For these reasons, it is important for doctors and patients to do all they can to ensure that opioid use is as safe and as limited as possible. If you’ve been injured and are likely to be prescribed opioids, we hope to give you a few tips to help you make sure you’re using these medicines as safely as possible.

Injuries that Call for Opioid Prescriptions

First, it should be very clear that opioids are prescribed only in situations where a patient experiences severe pain. Some patients with chronic pain injuries that interfere with their daily life and their ability to work may be prescribed opioids. Injuries that are most commonly treated with opioid painkillers include procedures that involve bones and joints instead of soft tissues. Broken bones and catastrophic injuries of the sort that are common in auto accidents are both more likely to be treated with opioids than other injuries, and more likely to be prescribed significant amounts of opioids.

In general, doctors will severely limit the amount of opioids available to a patient. They will aim to prescribe as little as necessary, for as short a time as possible. When a patient is prescribed more opioids than he or she needs, this is called “diversion.” Diversion is one of the major factors leading to opioid abuse, because it gives a patient (who might be prone to addiction) access to more of the drug than his or her pain calls for.

How Doctors Ensure Safe Usage

Doctors strive to ensure safe usage of opioids by taking care never to prescribe the patient more than necessary. They also perform risk assessments to ensure that the patient doesn’t have a high potential for abuse. Educating the patient about the risks of addiction and obtaining informed consent before prescribing the drug are also necessary.

A good doctor will monitor your situation as you go through your course of treatment, in order to make sure the drug is not being abused. In the case of long-term treatment with opioid painkillers, a doctor should have a plan to gradually wean you off of your medication, ensuring that you don’t go through any painful withdrawal symptoms by being taken off of opioids abruptly.

General Opioid Safety Tips

The best thing you can do if you are prescribed opiates is to follow your doctor’s guidelines precisely. Take the prescribed number of pills, and no more. Even if you’re still experiencing some pain after taking your treatment, there are serious risks involved in overmedicating yourself. Opiate painkillers have a high potential for overdose, which could lead to serious health complications or even death.

Do not take your painkillers with a greater frequency than the doctor prescribes. Even if the pain starts to come back, wait the full amount of time until you’re supposed to take your next dose. To put it briefly: no matter how painful it gets, the consequences of overdose or addiction are worse. Remember that, and follow your doctor’s prescription.

Last of all, make sure to tell your doctor if you are on any other medications, prescription or otherwise. Opioid use brings with it a risk of adverse drug interactions, so it’s important for your doctor to know about these possibilities in advance.

Author's Bio: 

Thabet Khalidi is a Tucson attorney who has represented many clients with chronic pain injuries. He understands well how chronic pain can impact all aspects of a person's daily life at work and home. The Khalidi Law Firm will fight for their clients' rights and provides personalized legal representation. Our lawyers have decades of experience and are well-respected in the legal community. Though we try to settle cases to spare our clients the expense, stress, and uncertainty of trial, our experienced trial lawyers are always prepared to go to court.