Opioids are narcotic pain relievers, prescribed for short-term treatment of moderate to severe pain, as after a surgery. Examples include hydrocodone (such as Vicodin), oxycodone (such as Percocet), and codeine (used in some medications to treat cough).
According to Beacon Health Options, opioid overdose is now the No. 1 cause of accidental death in America. Every day, over 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for using or misusing prescription opioids. Anyone who takes opioids, even for a short amount of time, is at risk for addiction and death.
The state of North Carolina has launched a new program to help fight the opioid crisis. Opioid-related overdose deaths in North Carolina have doubled in the past 10 years, and the problem only continues to grow and devastate lives. The North Carolina Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services have created the “More Powerful” campaign to raise awareness of the scope and danger of the opioid crisis, and as a call for action that North Carolinians can rally behind. Get the facts. Together we are more powerful than opioids, and we can all help play a part in ending the epidemic.
Be an active participant in your health care decisions with your provider. Opioid use increases your risk for misuse, addiction, and death. If your provider recommends a prescription opioid for you, ask these important questions:
- Why do I need this medication—is it right for me?
- Is this the lowest possible dosage?
- Are there non-opioid options for pain relief, such as physical therapy?
- Will you write the prescription only for the length of time you think I will need it?
- What if I have a history of addiction?
- Should I also ask for Naloxone* at my pharmacy?
*Naloxone is a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and could save lives. Overdoses are often unintentional and accidental, and may occur if opioids are used with alcohol or taken with other medications. Naloxone is available in North Carolina without a prescription from pharmacies for individuals using opioids who are at risk of an overdose, as well as their loved ones.
Some harmful side effects of opioids may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Breathing problems
- Loss of interest in sex
Opioids should not be considered a first line or routine therapy for chronic pain; non-opioid therapies are preferred for chronic pain. In most cases, the risks of opioid use outweigh the benefits. Some examples of alternative, effective pain management therapies include:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers, like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen
- Non-drug treatments, like exercise, physical therapy, massage therapy, acupuncture
- Injections, such as steroids
- Cognitive behavioral therapy or practicing mindfulness
Ask your provider which pain management alternatives to opioids may be right for you. Visit MedlinePlus.gov for the latest in pain management.
If you have children or teenagers at home, consider a lockbox for your medications. Small children can mistake medicine for candy and teenagers or their friends may seek out medications for non-medicinal uses.
Do not hold onto leftover opioids, as they can be a target for theft by people who you may never suspect: family, friends, or possibly kids.
To find a secure drop box near you for disposal of your leftover medications, visit Operation Medicine Drop.
Opioid misuse is dangerous—it is a slippery slope to addiction or accidental overdose and death. Opioids are more accessible than ever, making it easier for people to misuse. Misusing opioids includes:
- Using them in a manner or dose other than what was prescribed to you by your provider;
- Using someone else’s prescription, even if for a real medical issue like back pain; or
- Taking them to feel euphoric or “high.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , as many as 1 in 4 people who receive prescription opioids long-term for non-cancer pain in primary care settings struggles with addiction1. Opioid addiction is not a character flaw or moral failing but rather, a medical condition, like diabetes or heart disease. People of all ages and occupations are at risk for opioid addiction. People with mental health conditions like anxiety or depression are more at risk for developing an opioid addiction.
Signs and symptoms of addiction:
- Reduced social interaction
- Poor memory and concentration
- Mood swings
- Apathy and depression
- Neglecting work or school
- Personal hygiene deterioration
- Preoccupation with obtaining drugs, even by illegal means
- Seeking additional money to purchase drugs
- Unable to reduce the amount of drugs taken
Still unsure if you might be addicted? Take this quiz to find out.
You are not alone. There are resources to help. If you think you have an issue with opioids, ask your prescribing provider for help.
What if I do have a problem with drugs? Check for signs of addiction and the steps you can take to get well.
To find providers and facilities near you to help with opioid addiction, visit www.samhsa.gov or call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357). SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7 treatment referral and information service for individuals and families facing mental health and/or substance use disorders. Also, read about how to Choose the Right Care and more through the Plan’s resource, Achieve Solutions.
If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis that cannot wait for a medical appointment, you can find North Carolina crisis resources in your county here. Many are available 24/7.
If someone has signs of an overdose, call 9-1-1 immediately:
- The person's face is extremely pale and/or feels clammy to the touch
- Their body goes limp
- Their fingernails or lips have a purple or blue color
- They start vomiting or making gurgling noises
- They cannot be awakened or are unable to speak
- Their breathing or heartbeat slows or stops
Recovery can be a reality! Learn more about recovery, how to help a loved one, or talk with your health care provider and behavioral health professional. Narcotics Anonymous is also a recommended resource – learn more by visiting www.na.org.
The North Carolina Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services have created the “More Powerful” campaign to raise awareness of the scope and danger of the opioid crisis, and as a call for action that North Carolinians can rally behind. Get the facts. Together we are more powerful than opioids, and we can all help play a part in ending the epidemic.