Opioid abuse has reached epidemic levels in the United States in recent years. Nearly 50 people die every day from prescription opioid abuse*, and anyone currently taking opioid medication should understand the significant risks of addiction and overdose these drugs present. If you suffered an injury that requires extensive, painful recovery, your doctor may suggest an opioid medication. Some people also receive opioid painkiller prescriptions to manage chronic pain, and this poses a significantly higher risk of causing addiction than short-term use.

Questions To Ask About Your Opioid Prescription

Doctors have a legal and professional obligation to secure a patient’s informed consent about any proposed course of treatment. This means the doctor must carefully explain all the potential risks and benefits of any proposed treatment so the patient can make an informed decision about his or her medical care. Failure to secure a patient’s informed consent is a form of medical malpractice, so most prescribing doctors are careful to ensure they provide their patients with the necessary information concerning every prescription, but it is always best to know a few important questions to ask about any opioid prescription.

If a physician recommends a medication, he or she has a duty to inform you about the potential side effects, any possible risk of addiction, and potential interactions with the patient’s preexisting medical conditions and other prescriptions. Everyone should know the following six crucial questions to ask about any opioid prescription.

“Why Do I Need This Prescription?”

Over-prescribing is a major problem with the current opioid epidemic. Some doctors recognize the high level of effectiveness of opioids at treating certain kinds of pain so these medications become a first response to many patients’ issues rather than a last resort as they should be. Ask your doctor why your condition requires this particular medication. He or she should be able to provide you with a detailed and satisfactory explanation other than “it just works.” Your doctor should carefully explain how this medication treats your specific condition better than alternatives.

“Are There Non-Opioid Alternatives To This Prescription?”

You have the right to ask about alternatives to a suggested treatment method. If you are wary of using opioids (and you have more than enough reason to be), make your apprehension clear to your physician and ask him or her about available alternatives. Many people find relief from chronic pain from holistic treatments like massage and acupuncture. Non-opioid medications and anti-inflammatory drugs may also offer relief. Make sure you ask your doctor if he or she believes a non-opioid medication could effectively treat your condition and go over the potential risks and benefits of his or her suggested alternatives.

“How Long Will I Need To Take This Prescription?”

Short-term opioid use generally means a relatively low risk of addiction. However, if a doctor suggests an opioid prescription for an extended amount of time, this should give you pause as a patient considering the very high potential for opioids to be habit-forming. Some people can develop a dependency on opioids after just a few doses, while others can take them per their physicians’ instructions for several months and experience little to no discomfort afterward. Make sure you understand the timeline for your prescription, and ask your doctor about tapering your doses if you are concerned about developing an addiction.

“What Should I Do About The Potential For Addiction?”

By now most Americans are aware of the ongoing opioid crisis in the country. While many assume the notorious street drug heroin is the main culprit, the reality is that prescription opioid painkillers are the main driving force behind the consistently high opioid overdose numbers in America. Prescription opioid abuse can also lead to heroin addiction once prescription refills are no longer available, and the average cost of a dose of heroin can be as little as $5 on the street. Ask your doctor about the risk of addiction with your prescription, warning signs you should report to the doctor, and how the doctor will help you if you start forming an opioid habit.

“How Should I Handle This Medication?”

Make sure you understand proper storage and dosing for your prescription. Prescription opioids, even mild ones, can be deadly to children. If you have small children in your home, make sure you let your doctor know so he or she can suggest appropriate storage and use practices. If you do fill an opioid prescription and a small child somehow and consumes one, call 911 immediately or take the child to the emergency room. If you have older children or teens in your home, do your best to ensure they cannot find your prescription opioids as even experimentation can quickly escalate to abuse and addiction.

“Are There Any Danger Signs I Should Know?”

Your doctor should carefully explain potential side effects of your medication, such as lethargy, cravings for more of the drug, and respiratory complications. The prescribing physician should provide very clear and detailed instructions for use and warnings so you know how to identify potentially dangerous side effects. The doctor should also explain how to tell the difference between when you need to call him or her about the appearance of side effects or when you need to call 911.

Knowledge And Responsibility Are Essential For Preventing Opioid Abuse

Prescription opioids are one of the most effective forms of pain management available, but they carry an extremely high risk of addiction and abuse. Take the time to thoroughly research a prescription before taking it. If a prescribing doctor’s answers to these questions did not instill confidence about your prescription, do not shy away from pursuing a second opinion. When it comes to opioid prescriptions, knowing the full range of potential risks and benefits and appropriate, responsible use are essential to preventing addiction.

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