Four Things You Need To Know Before Taking Your Opioid Prescription

January 01, 2018

Opioids are highly addictive drugs that act on the brain to alleviate pain. They include opioid medications that doctors prescribe to relieve pain after serious injury or surgery, as well as illicit drugs such as heroin. Examples of prescription opioids include oxycodone, morphine, codeine, fentanyl and hydrocodone (commonly known as Norco and Vicodin).

Unfortunately, people can become addicted to opioids even when they are prescribed by a doctor and used as directed. Since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids has quadrupled.

Elizabeth Bulat, M.D., an addiction medicine physician and medical director at Henry Ford Maplegrove Center, helps patients overcome opioid addiction. Here, she offers tips for what you need to know before starting these potent medications.

1. Opioids are habit-forming.

We know opioids can lead to addiction. But it may be surprising to know how fast dependency can happen.

“Opioids are strong drugs – especially those that are synthetically created, like fentanyl,” Dr. Bulat says. “After even one use, they can lead to feelings of addiction.”

2. Be cautious. 

Like with any new prescription, it’s important to know how it could react with any current medication you are taking. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about any concerns before starting these drugs.

“Opioids affect certain receptors in the brain that slow down breathing,” Dr. Bulat says. “When taken with other substances that have the same effect, such as alcohol, you could face serious or even deadly side effects.”

3. Take as needed, but not regularly.

Opioids are prescribed for short-term pain management. Doctors generally direct that opioid prescriptions are to be taken once every several hours as needed, but not regularly – meaning your pain level, not the clock, should dictate if the next dose is needed when the time comes.

Talk with your doctor about alternative ways to manage pain.

Patients with certain cancers or other serious conditions often need opioids to manage pain. In these instances, patients should work with their doctors to determine what treatment is appropriate for them.

4. Pay attention to how you feel.

Keep tabs on your behavior and the way your medication makes you feel. 

“Let a loved one know you have been prescribed opioids for pain medication. This person can help you manage your prescription and monitor your behavior, and in the event you start to feel dependency, can help you get proper support,” Dr. Bulat says.

Do you or a loved one need help overcoming opioid addiction? Learn more about addiction treatment options at or call (800) 422-1183 for an assessment appointment.