Don’t be alarmed if a doctor prescribes you opioids in cases of acute, severe pain immediately following a strain, sprain or surgery. “As you heal up and as the pain gets better, you step down off of narcotic pain medicines and onto weaker pain medication,” says Dr. Ted Parran, co-medical director of Rosary Hall at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center. Parran offers some safe ways to manage opioid use and risks.
Your doctor should ask if you or a family member have a history of addiction. Doctors should also ask about other prescriptions, since some can cause risky interactions. When combined with sedatives, for example, opioids can up drowsiness or alter behavior. “You multiply the euphoria effect of opiates,” Parran says. “So people get more high, more silly and more foolish, and they’re at the risk of doing bad things.”
Watch Your Dosage
Keep the amount low. More than 60 milligrams of morphine, 40 milligrams of oxycodone or 50 milligrams of hydrocodone can start an addiction. “When the brain is exposed to high doses of opiates over a long time, the brain actually changes,” says Parran. Once the brain gets to that state, it can take years to get off opioids.
The time frame for taking opioids safely is four to eight days. Once usage stretches to six to 12 weeks, it could lead to risk of physical dependency. “When they try to taper off quickly, they have a withdrawal,” says Parran. The key to getting someone off opioids is tapering the dose ever so slowly over weeks — not days — to avoid withdrawal symptoms.