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Are Opioids Safe for Me to Use?

Learn How You or a Loved One Can Safely Take Opioids and Avoid Addiction

Are Opioids Safe for Me to Use?

While the news is full of horror stories of overdoses on every corner and the rising risk of opioids, opioids themselves have never been safer to take. If you or a loved one need to use opioids for pain relief, post-surgery, or as prescribed by your doctor for short term use, opioids are safe and effective. The opioid issues occur when opioids are combined with other substances, are used outside of their prescribed use or by people they weren't prescribed for, and when the opioids are manufactured illicitly. If you or a loved one are already struggling with an opioid addiction, help is available and you can end addiction completely. If you're worried you or someone you love is at risk for opioid addiction or overdose, read on.

Natural, Semi-synthetic, or Synthetic Opioids- Does It Matter What I Take?

Opioids, whether natural, synthetic, or semi-synthetic, are all narcotics and have very similar effects. Natural opioids, like morphine, opium, thebaine, and codeine, are derived from the opium poppy and are also called opiates. Synthetic opioids are derived from chemicals and aren't dependent on poppy production to be produced so their manufacture isn't as limited. Semi-synthetic opioids are derived from opium alkaloids such as codeine, thebaine, and morphine. Semi-synthetic opioids include oxycodone, oxymorphone (Opana), hydrocodone (Vicodin), buprenorphine, hydromorphone (Dilaudid), and heroin. Synthetic opioids include fentanyl, merperidine (Demerol), and methadone. Natural, semi-synthetic , or fully synthetic opioids all function as opioids but differ in how they are manufactured. The more organic or natural a drug is isn't a factor for whether it will work well for you. Which type of opioid your doctor prescribes likely has more to do with your medical history and any personal sensitivity to side effects like histamine production, nausea, and other narcotic effects that can vary between opioids.

Why Are Opioids Safer Today?

Opioids are safer today than ever before for several reasons. Drug manufacturers are constantly seeking ways to make their opioids less vulnerable to abuse by developing abuse deterrent formulations (ADF). Opioids are manipulated to prevent abuse which include:

  • Physical or chemical barriers that prevent users from crushing, dissolving, or misusing the drug
  • Substances added to drugs that produce unpleasant experiences if the drug is abused
  • Agonist/antagonist combinations that render the drug inert if it is tampered with
  • Molecular entities or prodrugs that make a drug inactive unless it is taken orally
  • Long acting drug delivery systems for injectables and implants

Restrictions on prescribing and providing opioids are also a way of limiting the overprescribing of opioids. A recent study showed that emergency room doctors are the least likely physician to overprescribe opioids and represent far fewer prescriptions in number and amount than general practitioners. Federal and state regulations on opioid prescriptions are reducing the number of opioids being used. These restrictions can be a great challenge for patients who use opioids for chronic pain relief and aren't naïve opioid users. Exemptions for certain conditions or terms of use may allow for greater flexibility in providing adequate pain relief for long term users or those with palliative care needs who typically may need access to more opioids.

Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) are state run databases that provide information and tracking on the prescription and providing of controlled substances, including opioids. These state run databases have been instrumental in providing tracking and other information to prosecute and reduce drug diversion schemes, unscrupulous physicians and pharmacists participation in "pill mills", doctor shopping by patients, and other types of fraud and prescription drug abuse. Missouri is the only state without prescription drug tracking currently. Some states are more comprehensive in their tracking strategies than others but tracking provides a trail to ensure that opioids are not diverted into illicit sales and otherwise abused.

How You Can Keep You and Your Loved Ones Safe Using Opioids

There are key things you can do to keep yourself safe when you or a loved one are using controlled substances like opioids. First, be candid with your doctor regarding your medical history and anything you may be taking. Opioid overdoses are overwhelmingly from polydrug use ,or multiple drugs taken together. The interaction of various drugs together can lead to overdose and death. Certain drugs can't be taken together at all. Other drugs taken together can increase expected drug or side effects to an unsafe level. It's also important to ask if you may need to avoid other substances, especially alcohol, with the use of opioids as alcohol and opioids are both central nervous system depressants

Taking opioids exactly as they are prescribed goes a long way toward having them work effectively for you. If you are experiencing side effects that are difficult to tolerate, you need to consult with your doctor, especially if you are new to opioid use. You may be able to change medications to alleviate some or all of the effects. You need to complete the course of treatment and not stop the medication abruptly unless directed to do so by your physician.

Disposing of opioids and other medications after ending their use is another important thing you can do to maintain opioid safety. Most people who misuse opioids receive or take them from a family member who didn't finish or dispose of the medication after ending its use. Any medication is prescribed with the health history and conditions of the person in mind and they can't be safely shared. There are many local, state, and federal drives and sites to safely dispose of unused medicine. Keep in mind as well that old medications that have expired may be ineffective and, in some cases, dangerous to take as they can alter over time to be unsafe. Disposal is the best means to ensure the medications aren't stolen or misused.

Opioids aren't the problem. You can't get addicted to opioids because they are all powerful and "hook" you. Millions of people take opioids and aren't addicted. Even if you develop a temporary physical dependence to using opioids, dependence is different than what most people mean when they say addiction. If you use opioids responsibly as intended, you will be able to use them and leave them behind as your medical condition and healing occurs.

Polydrug use, opioids are used in combination with other drugs recreationally, is dangerous as that choice can lead to overdose and death. Choosing to use opioids that are illicitly manufactured is also risky as there is no quality control for illegal manufacturers. You really have no idea what you are actually taking. Opioids like heroin are being cut with high potency synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and carfentanil, where a few grains more or less in a dose can be deadly. Counterfeit prescription drugs have also been shown to be tainted with opioids, either by accident or intentionally, and the effect can cause an overdose as well.

If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid use, there is something you can do. The Freedom Model for Addictions can provide accurate, evidence-based information with an approach to help you get beyond addiction for good. It's not the drugs that are dangerous but how we choose to use them. You can end addiction now and leave risky behavior behind. It's possible to live an addiction free life on your terms- let us show you how with The Freedom Model for Addictions.

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