7 Facts and myths about opioids. Learn the facts.

reviewed 5/16/2019

7 facts and myths about opioids

At some time in your life, a doctor might prescribe opioids for you—to relieve pain from an injury, surgery or another cause. Would you be concerned because of what you’ve heard about opioid abuse?

Anytime you have questions about a medicine, share them with your doctor. But here’s something you should know about opioids: They can be effective and taken safely. Read on for more helpful facts.

Opioids should be used only in rare cases: MYTH

Opioids can play an important role in pain relief and recovery after surgery or injury or during treatment for cancer or other serious health conditions. Opioids may be safest and most effective when used to reduce severe pain for short periods of time.

Everyone who takes opioids becomes addicted: MYTH

Anyone can misuse or abuse a medication, taking it more often or in higher doses than they should. But whether you become dependent or addicted can depend on other risk factors. Addiction is rare when opioids are used for short periods, 5 days or less. Your risk of abuse increases the longer you take the medication.

A previous history of drug abuse is a risk factor for addiction: FACT

In general risks from opioid use—of addiction, overdose or harmful side effects—are greater if you:

  • Have a history of drug or other substance abuse.
  • Have a mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety.
  • Have sleep apnea.
  • Are age 65 or older.
  • Are pregnant.

If any of the above apply to you, be sure to discuss it with your doctor.

The more opioids you take, the better they work: MYTH

If you take more pain medicine than prescribed, you risk overdosing. You also risk developing a tolerance for the drug, which means you’ll need to take more medication to get the relief you used to get with less. You should only take opioids exactly as prescribed by your doctor.

Opioids are not your only option for pain relief: FACT

If you’re uncomfortable taking opioids, talk with your doctor about other methods for pain relief. Some options may work better for you than opioids. These options might include other medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, cognitive behavioral therapy, physical therapy, and exercise.

All opioids are made from the opium poppy plant: MYTH

Opioids are naturally found in the opium poppy plant, but they can also be manufactured in a laboratory. The most commonly used prescription opioids are oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco, Lorcet), codeine and morphine.

Kitty litter can help you dispose of unused opioids: FACT

You should dispose of any opioids as soon as they’re not needed anymore. Check with your pharmacy to see if they have a drug take-back program. Or combine your leftover opioids with kitty litter or coffee grounds in a plastic bag to go in the trash.

You can reduce your risk for opioid addiction.


Sources: American College of Surgeons; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; National Institute on Drug Abuse

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This information is provided for educational purposes only. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare providers regarding medical care or treatment, as recommendations, services or resources are not a substitute for the advice or recommendation of an individual's physician or healthcare provider. Services or treatment options may not be covered under an individual's particular health plan.