Preventing opioid misuse

Potential risks of opioid use and what you can do.

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Opioids are effective at relieving pain; however, anyone who uses opioids is at risk for opioid medication misuse. Your drug dosage and your physical condition can play a role in your risk of opioid misuse.  Prescription opioids need to be used with caution. When used for acute, short-term pain, the risk is lower for misuse. However, the risk for misuse increases when used with long-term chronic pain. When considering the use of prescription opioid medications, take into account the potential risks for misuse:

  • Dependence can develop in five to seven days, which can lead to misuse. Physical dependence of opioids can happen quickly, which means they have a major effect on the brain. Health care providers can give us our first warnings about the side effects and reduce the chance of becoming dependent on opioids. Providers prescribe prescription opioids according to a number of factors and guidelines that can improve recovery from an injury or manage symptoms of a physical condition. Using an opioid medication for another use other than the provider intended, or taking the medication for longer than prescribed, can lead to misuse and other serious health consequences.
  • When people become dependent on opioids, there is a risk of developing an opioid use disorder requiring regular use to feel good that goes beyond the need for relieving pain.
  • Misuse of prescription opioids can cause the brain to become increasingly dependent on having opioids to function, leading to a brain disease. Opioid use disorder changes the structure and function of the brain.  Once people become dependent on opioids and are unable to access prescription opioids, people may seek out other substances.
  • The use of morphine, codeine and other opioids can at times increase use of other drugs when people develop dependence.
  • Willpower alone is not enough for some people to stop misuse of opioid medication.

What You Can Do to Prevent Opioid Misuse

Educating your family and community can help prevent opioid misuse. You can make a difference! Below are some tips to practice and share.

  • Learn the signs and symptoms of opioid use disorder.
  • Join a local substance prevention coalition.
  • Change the language to reduce the stigma of opioid misuse.  For example, change your language use from terms like "addict," "abuser" or "druggie" to a "person with a substance use disorder." The change in language can help people seek recovery.
  • Participate in a free training on naloxone and keep naloxone available in case you come across someone experiencing an overdose. Naloxone can reverse an opioid overdose. Contact your local health department about training and agencies giving Naloxone doses to the public.
  • Dispose of any leftover medication at pharmacies, law enforcement agencies, and other organizations who host drug take back events.
  • Be positive, encouraging and supportive of recovery attempts. Refer friends, loved ones and community members to your local community behavioral health organizations and providers. Recovery often takes multiple attempts.
  • Research the underlying health condition that warranted the prescribed opioid medication. There may be other effective non-opioid options to treat or manage your condition, such as using alternative medications, physical activity and physical therapy. Talk with health care providers about alternatives to opioids for pain relief.

To learn more about opioid use disorder and what you can do to support prevention recovery or request a presentation in your community, please visit MSU Extension's MiSUPER website.

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