Opioid Epidemic

6 Myths and Facts About Opioid Medications


Opioids are a type of pain medication. Examples of prescription opioids include oxycodone, morphine and codeine.

Opioid use has steadily increased for several decades, which has resulted in an opioid epidemic. The narrative surrounding the opioid epidemic highlights the dangers of opioids, such as opioid misuse, opioid use disorder, and overdose. These are legitimate concerns; however, if opioids are taken as prescribed under the guidance of a trusted physician, they can be a safe, valuable treatment option for chronic pain. The opioid epidemic narrative understandably highlights the dangers of opioids; however, it has also perpetuated false information about opioids.

Six myths about opioid medications include the following:

  1. Myth: Opioids do not work for neuropathic pain.
    Fact: While some opioid medications may not be effective for neuropathic pain, others have different mechanisms that may help reduce neuropathic pain. Examples include methadone, tramadol and levorphanol.
  2. Myth: Opioids always cause unwanted side effects.
    Fact: Some individuals experience side effects from opioids, such as drowsiness and constipation, whereas others do not. When side effects do occur, steps can be taken to eliminate or reduce them, such as switching medications; changing the dosing regimen or administration method; or adding another medication to treat the side effect.
  3. Myth: Extended-release opioids are more dangerous than immediate-release opioids.
    Fact: Extended-release opioids are often prescribed for long-term opioid therapy. The effective therapeutic dosage of immediate-release opioids should be determined before starting extended-release opioids. This helps reduce the risk of overdose when starting an extended-release form.
  4. Myth: Prescription opioids are as dangerous as illegally obtained opioids.
    Fact: Opioids, whether obtained legally or illegally, are strong pain relievers and are dangerous if misused. However, if prescription opioids are taken as prescribed under the guidance of a physician, they are much less likely to cause harm than opioids obtained illegally.
  5. Myth: Everyone taking an opioid medication becomes addicted to it.
    Fact: Most individuals who take opioids as prescribed do not develop an addiction.
  6. Myth: Most opioid-related overdose deaths occur as a result of prescription opioids.
    Fact: Most opioid-related overdose deaths occur due to illicit fentanyl that is mixed with heroin or other illicit substances. When taken as prescribed, prescription opioids are unlikely to lead to overdose.
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