With two surgeries back-to-back, first for a knee and then for an elbow, David Toy knows about intense pain. His doctor prescribed opioids to help with that.

Considering the potentially addictive nature of narcotic pain medications or opioids, it’s not unusual for patients to be concerned about taking them. But medical experts say they can be used safely, if they are prescribed in small doses for short periods of time.

There are some possible side effects from taking opioids. These include extreme tiredness or low blood pressure, trouble breathing, nausea, confusion, itching or hives, constipation. The risk of addiction is very low when opioids are given for a short time to relieve acute pain. Still, experts warn they are a very potent medication that can be abused. So, it’s important to make sure you store them and dispose of any unused pills safely.

To find a safe place to get rid of opioids you no longer need, check the internet for medication disposal sites in your area. The reason opioids are often prescribed is fairly simple. By reducing pain from an injury or surgery, a patient can more quickly get back to their usual activities.

Regular follow-ups with your doctor will also help ensure that you are not becoming too reliant on the opioids. Your doctor should monitor your pain level which should improve as you heal, allowing the doctor to lower your dose or even switch you to some non-opioid alternative.

If you or your doctor are concerned about your use of opioids for pain management, there are other options that may work even better for you with fewer risks or side effects. These could include: Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol), aspirin or ibuprofen (like Advil), Behavioral therapy to learn how to respond to pain triggers, Exercise and weight loss, Medications if you are depressed by the pain, Acupuncture, or Massage.

The bottom line is as a patient, you owe it to yourself to get the safest, most effective pain relief possible. Opioids, when taken as prescribed and monitored by your doctor can be a safe part of your pain management plan.

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