Opioid Safety Begins With You

December 12, 2018

The epidemic of opioid addiction and death has captured media headlines and political focus but one of the most important steps in the fight begins right in your own home: securing these prescription medications so they don't get into the wrong hands.

Some 1,500 young adults misuse opioids daily in the United States, says NorthBay Healthcare Chief Medical Officer Seth Kaufman, M.D. "Half of them obtained these medications from family or friends, and along with that, 20 percent of young deaths are opioid related," he said.

Opioids are a broad group of pain-relieving drugs that work by interacting with opioid receptors in your cells. Opioids can be made from the poppy plant, such as morphine or synthesized in a laboratory, such as fentanyl.

When used as directed by your doctor, opioid medications safely help control acute pain, such as pain you experience after surgery. There are risks, though, when the medications are used incorrectly.

"When you are talking acute and chronic pain, it's about relieving pain but the ultimate goal is to get the problem solved so the patient can be functional again and that's where opioids can cause a problem," said Dr. Kaufman. "Because they don't necessary improve function. They can in the short term, but as you use them it requires higher and higher doses. In the long term is where you develop tolerance and the potential for addictions and they don't necessarily help function when you get that far out (in time)."

Opioid medications are not a cure, but rather a pain reliever to be used for a certain time, he added.

The crisis in the country comes from people overusing the drugs, or using them recreationally or in combination with other pain relievers.

"They are very effective for short term pain relief, but the side effect is slowing your breathing down and if you overdose, you can stop breathing. We see with accidental overdoses or when they are combined other things and in recreational drug use where they are using it to get high and use too much," Dr. Kaufman said.

He emphasized that anyone can develop an addiction issue with opioids.

"These medications can cause a chemical addiction. Over time, they change the receptors in the body so everyone at risk of addiction," he said.

He added that knowing the signs of addiction is important. If someone is not as functional as they once were, or stop showing up for work or school or social gatherings or experience an escalation in the need for the drug, wanting more and more pills, these are warning signs, he noted.

Most importantly, though, is that anyone with these drugs in their home, should take steps to secure them in a locked cabinet. "You don't want children to get ahold of this and you don't want anyone but you taking your prescriptions," he said.

Tags: Your Wellness



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