Balancing Opioid Use and Abuse

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America is in the midst of an opioid epidemic, with tens of thousands of people dying each year from overdoses.

While deaths from opioid overdose have affected men ages 25-44 the most, the painkiller addiction problem extends well beyond that age range. Medicare beneficiaries are also at risk of becoming dependent upon pain pills.

According to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services, nearly half a million Medicare beneficiaries received high amounts of opioids in 2016. Almost 90,000 of them are at serious risk of addiction, HHS said, because they get extreme amounts of opioids or shop around so different doctors will give them pills.

What are opioids?
Opioids are drugs that ease pain. Simply put, they cut the strength of pain signals reaching the brain and change brain zones that curb feelings. Doctors give them to treat pain linked to injury, dental work and surgery.

Types of opioid painkillers include:

  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone
  • Morphine
  • Codeine

Opioids are useful tools to take care of pain when taken the right way. When misused, though, they can lead to dependence, which can then lead to overdose or even accidental death.

Opioids should only be prescribed after other choices are weighed, according to the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Less addictive medications, exercise and massage or physical therapy may be less risky ways to handle pain.  

How can you tell if you have a problem?

Here are a few common signs:

  • You take your pain meds in larger amounts
  • You take those meds more often
  • You crave your next dose, even if you don't really need it
  • You get your pills from more than one doctor
  • You've been taking the pills for a long time
  • You sleep too much
  • You have bad mood swings

If you think that you've become reliant on opioids, talk with your doctor. It’s a common issue, so don't feel embarrassed. It is a complex link between you and your meds. You can find help. Seeing that there might be a problem is the first step.

Sources: Opioids in Medicare Part D: Concerns about Extreme Use and Questionable Prescribing , U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Inspector General; U.S. Drug Overdose Deaths Continue to Rise; Increase Fueled by Synthetic Opioids Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Understanding Drug Use and Addiction , National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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