Opioid Safety

Safety includes the correct use, storage, and disposal of opioids. Examples of opioid pain medicines are oxycodone, morphine, fentanyl, and codeine.

How are opioids given?

Opioids can be given as a pill, patch, or suppository. They can also be given as an injection into a vein, near a nerve, or into a joint. Your prescription may include one or both of the following:

  • Short-acting opioids work fast and relieve pain for about 3 to 6 hours. They are often used for acute or breakthrough pain.
  • Long-acting opioids usually last at least 8 hours. You can take them less often and they may be used for chronic pain.

How do I use opioids safely?

  • Take prescribed opioids exactly as directed. Opioids come with directions based on the kind and how it is given. Talk to your healthcare provider or a pharmacist if you have any questions. Do not take more than the recommended amount. Too much can cause a life-threatening overdose. Do not continue to take it after your pain stops. You may develop tolerance. This means you keep needing higher doses to get the same effect. You may also develop opioid use disorder. This means you are not able to control your opioid use.
  • Do not give opioids to others or take opioids that belong to someone else. The kind or amount one person takes may not be right for another. The person you share them with may also be taking medicines that do not mix with opioids. He or she may drink alcohol or use other drugs that can cause life-threatening problems when mixed with opioids.
  • Do not mix opioids with other medicines or alcohol. The combination can cause an overdose, or cause you to stop breathing. Alcohol, sleeping pills, and medicines such as antihistamines can make you sleepy. A combination with opioids can lead to a coma.
  • Do not drive or operate heavy machinery after you use an opioid. You may feel drowsy or have trouble concentrating. You can injure yourself or others if you drive or use heavy machinery when you are not alert. Your provider or pharmacist can tell you how long to wait after a dose before you do these activities.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any side effects. Side effects include nausea, sleepiness, itching, and trouble thinking clearly. Your provider may need to make changes to the kind or amount of opioid you are taking. He or she can also help you find ways to prevent or relieve side effects.

What can I do to manage constipation?

Constipation is the most common side effect of opioid medicine. Constipation is when you have hard, dry bowel movements, or you go longer than usual between bowel movements. Tell your healthcare provider about all changes in your bowel movements while you are taking opioids. He or she may recommend laxative medicine to help you have a bowel movement. He or she may also change the kind of opioid you are taking, or change when you take it. The following are more ways you can prevent or relieve constipation:

  • Drink liquids as directed. You may need to drink extra liquids to help soften and move your bowels. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.

Eat high-fiber foods. This may help decrease constipation by adding bulk to your bowel movements. High-fiber foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, and beans. Your healthcare provider or dietitian can help you create a high-fiber meal plan. Your provider may also recommend a fiber supplement if you cannot get enough fiber from food.

Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity can help stimulate your intestines. Walking is a good exercise to prevent or relieve constipation. Ask which exercises are best for you.