What are opioids? They’re the strongest pain medications, available only with a prescription. Common brand names include OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, and Zohydro ER. Generics include fentanyl, hydrocodone, morphine, and oxycodone.
Read the label. Never take more than advised, don’t take with alcohol, and don’t combine with any other drug without your doctor’s OK. Most opioid deaths involve alcohol or sleeping pills.
Get tested for sleep apnea. If you snore loudly, get checked for the condition, because opioids can make it worse or even fatal.
Tell your doctor if you have a cold, an asthma flare-up, or bronchitis because opioids can interfere with breathing. You may need a lower dose until you recover.
Don’t drive or do anything that requires you to be fully alert, especially when you start taking an opioid or whenever you change the type or dosage.
Lock up opioids. “Keeping opioids around is like keeping a loaded gun in your medicine cabinet,” says Richard Blondell, M.D., whose research shows that most teens hooked on prescription painkillers started with medication they got from their own house or from a friend.
Expect regular monitoring. If you are taking the drugs for chronic pain, “your doctor should assess you at regular visits. If pain and function do not improve at least 30 percent after starting the drugs, then they probably are not working well enough to justify the risks,” says Gary Franklin, M.D. Your doctor should also make sure that you take the drugs as prescribed by, for example, counting your pills.
Discard unused pills. You may be able to give them back to your pharmacy. If you can’t, the FDA says, unlike other drugs, opioids are so risky excess pills should be flushed down the toilet.