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Opioids and you: 5 fast facts

In recent decades, the rate of opioid overdose deaths has risen dramatically, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. And it's fueled in part by opioid misuse.

The headlines may have you concerned about how best to manage a pain problem. If you're thinking about using opioids, here are five things to know:

1. Opioids can be a safe short-term solution. Prescription pain relievers (for instance, oxycodone, hydrocodone and morphine) are commonly used to treat pain related to surgery, dental procedures or injuries, for instance. They can be safe when used as prescribed. However, they're usually not the ideal choice for noncancer chronic pain, such as pain from back problems or arthritis, according to CDC.

2. Opioid use disorder is common—and it can happen to anyone. Using opioids regularly or long term ups the chances. In the United States, about 2.7 million people have opioid use disorder, reports CDC.

3. You don't have to be addicted to be harmed. The majority of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. now involve opioids. Even just one misuse (taking opioids in ways other than as prescribed) can cause a fatal overdose. For instance, taking too many pills at once can cause breathing to stop. If you're prescribed an opioid, take it only as directed. Mixing opioids with alcohol increases this risk.

4. Opioids aren't your only pain-control choice. If you need help managing chronic pain, ask your doctor about other medicines or physical therapy exercises. They're effective forms of pain relief, according to CDC.

5. Help is available. If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid use, talk with your doctor. Recovery is possible—if you take the first step. Treatments, such as medications, can help.

Reviewed 12/5/2022

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