How to Use Opioids Safely

Opioids are substances that act on the nervous system to relieve pain and help people cope post-injury or surgery. However, opioids can be highly addictive, and many patients become dependent after using them for pain relief.

Let’s look at how you can make sure that you don’t become addicted to these highly effective yet potentially dangerous drugs.

pills and pill bottle

Are Opioids Even Safe?

Many wonder why doctors would prescribe opioids if they’re so addictive, but it’s simply because they work so well.

When used for only a short while, opioids are effective at treating severe or persistent pain.

Typically, opioids are given for sports injuries, physical trauma, pain related to cancer or terminal illness, surgery recovery, car accident injuries, and chronic headaches or back pain.

When Are Opioids Dangerous?

Many opioid medications cause a euphoric feeling on top of relieving pain. When people take the drug to feel that euphoria instead of managing pain, it is then that their addiction begins.

There are other ways that people misuse opioids as well, such as grinding the pills and snorting the powder, consuming more tablets than directed, and using the medication without a prescription. Some people get their prescriptions from family or friends.

However, the thing most people don’t realize is that even sticking to the prescribed dosage can still lead to addiction if the treatment goes on for too long.

Best Practices While Taking Prescription Opioids

Whether you are taking prescription opioids post-injury or surgery, or for other reasons, there are ways to ensure that you don’t become addicted.

If you adhere to the following advice, you shouldn’t have to worry about becoming dependent on opioids.

Talk to Your Doctor

It is a good idea to talk to your doctor before surgery. Surgery generally requires a pre-op appointment, so you should make a point to talk over post-op procedures with your doctor before your operation.

Keep Your Doses Low

Once you start your medication, follow the directions to the letter and don’t misuse the opioids.

Insist on taking the lowest effective opioid dose needed for your pain treatment. You shouldn’t need a maximum dosage unless you have severe pain.

It should not be necessary for you to use the medication for longer than a week after your surgery. Typically, three days will be long enough, and you should consider halting your opioid use after a few days.

It is advisable to use over-the-counter pain medication if you are still in a lot of pain after three days. Alternatively, you could revisit your doctor and discuss the matter. Discuss opioid-sparing medications with your doctor. You can find out more about the practice of using opioid-sparing medications and treatments  here.

Do Not Use Opioids for Long-Term Pain

As mentioned above, opioid use is risky after a few days as it can lead to addiction. If you are experiencing chronic pain, consult your doctor.

Long-term pain can be treated with other painkillers that are not so addictive but still effective enough to help.

You can also consider talking to a pain management specialist who will help you find safer ways to deal with your pain.

Know the Side Effects and Risks

It is essential to always keep track of what goes into your body, more so when you’re taking medication. Before you start using opioids for pain treatment, make sure you know the risks and side effects of these drugs.

The amount of opioids that can lead to overdose isn’t much higher than the amount necessary for pain treatment. As such, there is an increased risk of accidental overdose.

Opioid’s common side effects include dizziness, constipation, respiratory depression, sedation, nausea, and vomiting. Abdominal cramps and headaches are also typical side effects when taking this kind of medication.

Go for Regular Checkups

While you’re using opioids, it’s a good idea to schedule regular checkups with your doctor. If you are worried about the side effects you’re experiencing, you can discuss them with him or her.


Opioids work to treat acute pain but are highly addictive both physically and mentally with longterm use. To prevent addiction to the medication, be careful to only use in the immediate post-injury or post-surgical period.  If you have any concerns about the mediations you are taking, do not hesitate to speak to your doctor.

About the Author

Paula Nicola, M.D.
Dr. Nicola is the Facility Director at Renu. She is a trained and board certified medical doctor with specialized training in addiction medicine.

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