Safe Use of Opioid Pain Medicine: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Pain is your body's way of warning you that something is wrong. Pain feels different for everybody. Only you can describe your pain. Examples of opioids are fentanyl, hydrocodone, morphine, and oxycodone. Heroin is an illegal opioid.

A doctor can suggest or prescribe many types of medicines for pain. These range from over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen (Tylenol) to powerful medicines called opioids. Examples of opioids are fentanyl, hydrocodone, morphine, and oxycodone. Heroin is an illegal opioid.

Opioids are strong medicines. They can help you manage pain when you use them the right way. But if you misuse them, they can cause serious harm and even death. For these reasons, doctors are very careful about how they prescribe opioids.

If you decide to take opioids, here are some things to remember.

  • Keep your doctor informed. You can get addicted to opioids. The risk is higher if you have a history of substance use. Your doctor will monitor you closely for signs of misuse and addiction and to figure out when you no longer need to take opioids.
  • Make a treatment plan. The goal of your plan is to be able to function and do the things you need to do, even if you still have some pain. You might be able to manage your pain with other non-opioid options like physiotherapy, relaxation, or over-the-counter pain medicines.
  • Be aware of the side effects. Opioids can cause serious side effects, such as constipation, dry mouth, and nausea. And over time, you may need a higher dose to get pain relief. This is called tolerance. Your body also gets used to opioids. This is called physical dependence. If you suddenly stop taking them, you may have withdrawal symptoms.

The doctor carefully considered what pain medicine is right for you. You may not have received opioid pain medicine if your doctor was concerned about drug interactions or your safety, or if he or she had other concerns.

It is best to have one doctor or clinic treat your pain. This way you will get the pain medicine that will help you the most, and a doctor will be able to watch for any problems that the medicine might cause.

The doctor has checked you carefully, but problems can develop later. If you notice any problems or new symptoms, get medical treatment right away.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • If you need to take opioids to manage your pain, remember these safety tips.
    • Follow directions carefully. It's easy to misuse opioids if you take a dose other than what's prescribed by your doctor. This can lead to overdose and even death. Even sharing them with someone they weren't meant for is misuse.
    • Be cautious. Opioids may affect your judgment and decision making. Do not drive or operate machinery until you can think clearly. Talk with your doctor about when it is safe to drive.
    • Reduce the risk of drug interactions. Opioids can be dangerous if you take them with alcohol or with certain drugs like sleeping pills and muscle relaxers. Make sure your doctor knows about all the other medicines you take, including over-the-counter medicines. Don't start any new medicines before you talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
    • Keep others safe. Store opioids in a safe and secure place. Make sure that pets, children, friends, and family can't get to them. When you're done using opioids, make sure to properly dispose of them. You can either use a community drug take-back program or return the medicine to the pharmacy. Do not flush medicines down the sink or toilet.
    • Reduce the risk of overdose. Misuse of opioids can be very dangerous. Protect yourself by asking your doctor or pharmacist about a naloxone rescue kit. It can help you-and even save your life-if you take too much of an opioid. You can get a naloxone rescue kit without a prescription at most drugstores.
  • Try other ways to reduce pain.
    • Relax, and reduce stress. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation can help.
    • Keep moving. Gentle, daily exercise can help reduce pain over the long run. Try low- or no-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, and stationary biking. Do stretches to stay flexible.
    • Try heat, cold packs, and massage.
    • Get enough sleep. Pain can make you tired and drain your energy. Talk with your doctor if you have trouble sleeping because of pain.
    • Think positive. Your thoughts can affect your pain level. Do things that you enjoy to distract yourself when you have pain instead of focusing on the pain. See a movie, read a book, listen to music, or spend time with a friend.
  • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a new kind of pain.
  • You have new symptoms, such as a fever or rash, along with the pain.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You think you might be using too much pain medicine, and you need help to use less or stop.
  • Your pain gets worse.
  • You would like a referral to a doctor or clinic that specializes in pain management.

Where can you learn more?

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