Opioid Epidemic

How to Safely Taper off Opioids


What are opioids?

An opioid is a medication prescribed to relieve moderate to severe pain by weakening pain signals from nerves to the brain. Traditional opioid medications, such as oxycodone, codeine and morphine, are derived from a specific species of poppy plant. The opioids activate part of the body’s opioid system in order to relieve pain.

Long-term use of opioids

Opioids are often prescribed to help those living with chronic pain conditions. Long-term prescription opioid use affects the entire body. While these medications effectively ease acute pain, long-term use presents serious risks, such as addiction and overdose. As many as one in four who take opioids to treat pain can become addicted. These medications must be prescribed by a physician and are composed of different ingredients and varying strengths, doses, and costs. It is essential that those prescribed opioids for pain are monitored closely by a physician and/or pain specialist.


Opioids have the potential to be abused. Addiction refers to a problematic or unhealthy use of a substance. Tapering off opioids should be individualized and only attempted under close medical care. After using opioids for a while, a tolerance can build up. This can cause the need for additional medication or a higher dosage. Withdrawal symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, anxiety, and irritability.

Safely tapering off opioids

If opioids are only taken for two weeks or less, ceasing their use should not cause any issues; however, if opioids are taken for an extended period of time, it is important to seek assistance from a health care provider for a proper tapering schedule. One should never attempt to taper off opioids without the help of a pain specialist and/or a physician. If not done properly, opioid withdrawal is dangerous and withdrawal symptoms are severe. Withdrawal symptoms include, but are not limited to, anxiety, sleeplessness, nausea, vomiting, sweating, tremors, chills, agitation, body aches, diarrhea, drowsiness, increased heart rate, confusion, hallucinations, changes in blood pressure, shaking, drug craving, stomach cramping, and confusion.

Even though ceasing opioid use is difficult, it can be done. A physician can create an individualized treatment plan. Also, many prescription medications are available to help with opioid withdrawal including Methadone, Chlorpromazine, etc. For most people, tapering off opioids is a long process, it is important not to become discouraged. It is helpful to talk with a physician about alternative ways to treat pain.

Self-care during the tapering process In addition to a tapering plan provided by a health care provider, self-care during opioid withdrawal is important. Various self-care remedies for reducing withdrawal symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Eating nutritious meals
  • Walking for exercise
  • Implementing relaxation techniques
  • Finding things to do for distraction during cravings
  • Using positive affirmations

Natural products exist that may help with withdrawal symptoms.

Use caution

The tapering plan and the physician's instructions need to be followed closely. Even though an individual may want to decrease the dosage quickly, the body needs time to adjust slowly. If the tapering process is too difficult, it is essential to consult the health care provider. Several areas of caution should be noted:

  • Do not take someone else's pain medication
  • Take medication as prescribed
  • Do not drink alcohol while taking opioids
  • Do not take other medications in place of opioids
  • Consult a physician before beginning a new medication regimen
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