Talk to Your Provider
Opioid-based medications can be useful for pain management — especially for the severe pain someone may experience directly after surgery. However, opioid medications such as Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin are powerful and can be deadly if not taken properly. Even if taken as directed, any opioid-based medication can have serious side effects, including addiction and overdose.
Consider Other Pain Management Options First
While opioids can help to control pain at first, they are usually not necessary. Dr. Caleb Banta-Green, principal research scientist with the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, cautions people to consider medications, and opioids in particular, as a part of the treatment toolkit. Opioids should be at the bottom, not the top.
“Adults – and kids – should understand that it’s not a victory to come out of the doctor’s office with opioids,” says Banta-Green. “Your goal is to come out with a plan and tools.”
Instead, consider other options that may work just as well but have far fewer risks. For short-term pain that will likely only last a week or two, it’s always best to start with non-opioid pain treatments. These can include over-the-counter pain relievers, physical therapy, exercise, and professional help coping with the emotional effects of pain.
Be Honest About Your Situation
You need to be upfront about other medications you are taking, or whether you have a history of addiction. This will help your provider work with you to find the right treatment plan. If you believe you’re struggling with substance use disorder, ask your provider for guidance and referrals for help. Many providers in Snohomish County are either able to offer medication assisted treatment (like buprenorphine or Suboxone), or recommend a colleague in the same clinic who can.
When Opioids are Prescribed
If opioids are the best course of treatment, start with the smallest dose and supply available. Prescribing guidelines for adults indicate an initial prescription should be no more than three to seven days of medication. You should take the medicine as indicated; taking more or using opioids more frequently can increase your risk of dependence or overdose.
If you or a family member are using opioids for chronic pain or struggling with heroin or opioid addiction, ask your provider about keeping naloxone on hand. Naloxone – or Narcan – is an overdose-reversal drug, and your provider can give you a prescription so that it can go through your insurance. Another option is to purchase naloxone directly from a local pharmacy.
Find a New Provider if Needed
The bottom line is that patients should feel comfortable talking with their provider. If you aren’t, or your provider insists on prescribing opioids, you may want to consider looking for a new provider. Ask friends or family members for recommendations, call your insurance company for a list of providers in your area, or visit the Washington State Health Care Authority website.
If you believe your provider has violated a law, or has demonstrated unprofessional conduct or actions that mislead or harm you, another avenue is to file a complaint with the Washington State Department of Health.