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How to Reduce the Risk of Opioids

  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Jeff Kukel, Pharm D.

If you've recently had surgery or an injury, your doctor may have prescribed an opioid—such as hydrocodone, oxycodone or codeine—to help ease your pain.

Opioids are powerful drugs that work well. But like many medicines, there are risks associated with taking them. Here are seven tips that can help minimize those risks:

1. Tell your doctor and pharmacist about any other medicines that you take. Some drugs, including sleeping pills and medicines for anxiety, can interact with opioids, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Even if you only take a drug every now and then, your doctor needs to know.

2. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about serious side effects. Learn which potential opioid side effects might warrant a call to your health care team or a visit to the emergency department. The directions or other information that came with your prescription may include this information too.

3. Never take more of your medication than you should. One accidental overdose of an opioid could be fatal. If you're still having a lot of pain despite taking the recommended dose, tell your health care team. Also, for safety's sake, take your opioid exactly as prescribed. Otherwise, it may do more harm than good.

4. Speak up about addictions. If you haven't done so yet, tell your health care providers about any personal or family history of substance abuse or addiction to drugs or alcohol, or if you have a history of smoking cigarettes.

5. Lock up your medicines. Prevent curious kids—and anyone else—from abusing or accidentally overdosing on your pain medications. Many teens who use heroin (an illegal opioid) became addicted first to prescription opioids that they got from family or friends, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

6. Don't keep any extra medicine or share it with family or friends. What helps you could harm someone else. Nearly 6 in 10 patients who receive prescriptions for opioid medications had leftover doses. Take any leftover medication to a drug take-back program like the one offered by AGHRx RediScripts Pharmacy one the first floor of Atlantic General Hospital. Alternatively, ask a member of the AGHRx RediScripts Pharmacy about our free Deterra Drug Deactivation and disposal pouches. These are dispensed with all opioids prescriptions from our pharmacy free of charge and made avaialble to our patients at any time upon request. When medications are placed into the pouch and warm water is added, activated carbon is released, permanently deactivating the unwanted medications making them unavailable for misuse and rendering them safe for landfills. The Deterra Drug Deactivation Systems are generously donated by Worcester Goes Purple Warriors Against Addiction.

7. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about naloxone. This medicine can reverse an opioid overdose. It may never be needed, but it often makes sense to have it on hand just in case, advises the FDA. Narcan, a nasal spray version of naloxone, is available at no charge at AGHRxRediScripts Pharmacy without the need for a prescription through a grant in conjunction with the Worcester County Health Department.

For more information about safe drug disposal options, naloxone, or to inquire about how Atlantic General Hospital and AGH Rediscripts Pharmacy can help you and your family more effectively access and manage the medications you need to stay healthy please contact a member of your AGHRx Rediscripts Pharmacy staff on the main campus of Atlantic General Hospital at 410-641-9240 or by email at

Knowledge is good medicine