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– by Jeremy Fejfar, PharmD, Health Plan Clinical Pharmacy Director

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 the 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 opioid overdose. You don’t need a prescription in most pharmacies.
  • Well-known brand-name painkillers, like Vicodin (hydrocodone) and OxyContin (oxycodone), are opioids. So are generic drugs, such as 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 a 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 medication with friends or family. Keep your prescription locked away and out of reach of curious children and teens.

Safe disposal

Properly dispose of the medication as soon as it's no longer needed or has expired. Disposal options include -

  • Visit and choose Drug Take Back from the menu for a map of Wisconsin drop-off locations. Many are available year-round, such as local police departments.
  • The Drug Enforcement Agency coordinates National Prescription Drug Take Back Days, next scheduled for April 28, 2018. Visit for details and collection locations.

Spread the word.

Problems with opioids or other substances?

Your employees can get help by calling (800) 662-HELP (4357) to reach the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline.

This confidential, free information service is available 24​ hours a day, 365 days a year. They provide referrals and information in both English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental health and / or substance use disorders.

Employees may also seek treatment through their primary care physician or explore community resources.

Fast Facts

  • Every day, 44 Americans die from an opioid overdose
  • One in four Americans who take opioids for a long time become addicted to the drugs
  • 70 percent of nonmedical prescription pain reliever users obtain medication from family or friends — often without their knowledge