Know Your Meds, Lock Your Meds

You may hear the word “opioid” thrown around a lot, and news headlines about the opioid epidemic are now commonplace. While you may be familiar with the word, can you spot an opioid in your own home? If they are in your home, what should you do to help prevent opioid misuse and abuse? Knowing more about your medications, or the medications used by your loved ones, is the first step to becoming more aware of the risks that opioids present.

The Basics

Opioids are a class of drugs that include prescription medications and illegal substances, such as heroin. There are three categories of opioids: opiates, semi-synthetic, and synthetic. Opiates are naturally occurring drugs that are derived directly from the opium poppy plant. Semi-synthetic opioids are a combination of these naturally occurring drugs and man-made components. Synthetic opioids are produced entirely by people in a lab.

The majority of opioids prescribed by healthcare providers are semi-synthetic. These include hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), hydromorphone, and oxymorphone (Opana). All opioids interact with the body in the same way. By attaching to receptors in the brian and other organs, opioids can block pain signals from reaching the brain. That’s why these medications often are prescribed for chronic pain, including pain associated with cancer, or for acute pain, like that following a surgery.

Along with reducing pain, opioids increase pleasure by releasing the “feel good chemicals” in the brain. This increase in pleasure provides that basis for the slippery slope toward addiction.

Opioids vs. Heroin

Heroin was created in the late 1800’s, as what was thought to be a “safer” alternative to morphine. Heroin is typically injected rather than swallowed, snorted or smoked like other opioids. However, the molecular structures of heroin and prescription opioids are so similar that the brain cannot tell the difference. What can? Your wallet. Prescription opioids can be $80 or more per pill on the street, while heroin may be as low as $10 per hit.

How Overdoses Happen

Too much of an opioid — which varies based on the individual, length of time using, and what the drug is made out of — overwhelms those brain receptors and depresses the central nervous system. This slows the breathing to the point that vital organs begin to shut down. If an overdose is not reversed in time, a person’s body will simply shut down and breathing will stop.

It can be difficult to tell if a person is just very high or experiencing an overdose. If you’re having a hard time telling the difference, it is best to treat the situation like an overdose — it could save someone’s life.

Dangerous Drug Interactions

It is important to know whether the medication you have been prescribed is an opioid. Individuals taking opioids can have negative interactions with other drugs being taken, specifically benzodiazepines and alcohol.

Benzodiazepines, including Xanax and Valium, often are prescribed for anxiety and insomnia. They slow down body functions. When benzodiazepines are combined with opioids, the risk of overdose drastically increases. This is because both types of medications suppress breathing. when mixed together, they may cause you to stop breathing entirely. Alcohol acts in a similar way, so be sure to restrict alcohol use while taking prescription opioids.

Another thing to know about your opioid prescription is the proper dosage. Talking to your doctor or pharmacist will help you know exactly when to take your medication and how much you should take. It is recommended that you should take the lowest dose possible for the shortest amount of time to reduce the chance of your body building a tolerance to the medication.

Prescription Misuse & Abuse

A study conducted by the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute found that of those drug injectors who had used heroin within the past three months, 57 percent reported being “hooked on” prescription opioids before trying heroin. If you have an opioid prescription, it is important to take your medication exactly as prescribed and as directed by your doctor.

Improperly using your own prescription is called “prescription misuse,” and when that prescription is for opioids, this practice can be very dangerous. Taking too many pills, taking your medication too frequently, and taking your medication for longer than prescribed all can be considered prescription misuse. Taking pills that are not prescribed to you or seeking prescriptions for fake conditions would be examples of prescription abuse. Misusing and abusing opioid prescriptions can lead to substance use disorder, as well as an increased risk of overdose.

Medicine lock box, bag, and secure pill box

Safely Storing Your Medications

Taking a prescription opioid puts you at risk for prescription theft. Prescription opioids are commonly abused. Safely storing you medications can prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. A great way to ensure that your prescriptions are secure is by placing them in locking medicine cabinets, small lock boxes, and portable lock bags or locking pill bottles. These can be purchased at some local pharmacies, large retailers including Amazon and Walmart, as well as independent online businesses such as Safer Lock Rx, LockMed and Cardinal Bag Supplies.