By Jeremy Fejfar, PharmD
Dr. Fejfar is our Health Plan Clinical Pharmacy Director. Dr. Fejfar earned his doctor of Pharmacy from South Dakota State University. He is a member of the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin.

It’s tough to live with chronic pain, but millions of Americans do. That’s one reason why prescription opioid pain medications are so popular.

Opioid medications are good at relieving pain in the short term. They also help people with active cancer and people receiving hospice or palliative care cope with pain. While these medications can be safe when taken as prescribed by a health care provider, opioids come with some serious risks, including the risk of addiction and unintentional overdose and death.

What You Need to Know About Opioids

  • Overdosing on opioids can cause extreme sleepiness, difficulty waking up and stopped breathing. If you suspect someone may have overdosed, call 911 immediately.
  • A nose spray (Narcan®) can quickly reverse an opioid overdose. You don’t need a prescription in most pharmacies.
  • Well-known painkillers, like Vicodin (hydrocodone) and OxyContin (oxycodone), are opioids. So are fentanyl, morphine, codeine and methadone.

Finding Solutions

If you’re living with chronic pain, talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of taking opioids. Discuss other ways to help manage your pain, such as physical therapy, exercise and nonopioid medications.

If your doctor does prescribe an opioid, be sure you –

  • Never mix the drug with alcohol. Don’t drive! Opioids impair your ability to drive much like alcohol. You could be charged with driving under the influence (DUI), even if you have a prescription from your doctor.
  • Don’t take it with other substances or medications without your doctor’s okay.
  • Never share the medication with friends or family and keep it locked away, and well out of reach of curious children and teens. Giving opioids to someone else is a federal crime.
  • Properly dispose of the medication as soon as it’s no longer needed or has expired. Disposal options include –
    • Local police departments – many collect medications for disposal year-round
    • National Prescription Drug Take Back Day Events –
      organized nationwide, two times a year or more. The next take back day is April 28, 2018. Visit to find a map of Drug Take Back locations in Wisconsin. Other states, visit


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