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Your Express Scripts Canada pharmacist has a wealth of knowledge on a wide range of health topics. If you have a question about your health or medication, chances are, your Express Scripts Canada pharmacist knows the answer.

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I hurt my back and my doctor prescribed pain medication. Aren’t they addictive? How do I make sure I don’t get hooked?

Answer from Express Scripts Canada Pharmacist, Kim Rae:

You’ve probably heard about the opioid crisis. Opioids like oxycodone, hydromorphone and fentanyl are highly addictive and prone to abuse and overdose. In fact, opioids are now responsible for more deaths every year than cocaine or heroin.

If you take opioids for a short period of time and follow your doctor’s directions, the risk of addiction and other negative consequences is likely fairly low.

Here are a few things you can do to help avoid addiction and abuse issues when taking opioids:

  1. Know your risk factors. If you or family members are prone to addiction, whether to cigarettes, alcohol or other drugs, you may be at higher risk of becoming addicted to opioids. Talk to your doctor about non-opioid pain medications that are much less addictive.
  2. Limit how long you use them. If your pain isn’t chronic, your doctor should only prescribe a short course of opioid therapy. It’s been reported that people who take opioids for a month have a 30% chance of continuing to take them a year later.
  3. Don’t take more than prescribed if you still feel pain. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist, who may recommend a non-narcotic painkiller, in addition to the opioid, to control pain flare ups.
  4. Never crush or alter the medication before taking it. This will change the way your body absorbs the drug, and could put you at risk. If you have trouble swallowing tablets and capsules, talk to your doctor. They may provide instructions on how to crush or dissolve medications before swallowing if they consider it to be in your best interest.

If you need opioids for temporary pain, and you follow your doctor’s directions, you are not likely to become addicted. Studies suggest that most addicts first took opioids for non-prescribed reasons, possibly looking to get high, then inadvertently became dependent on the drug. So, always make sure your medication is locked away. Learn how to safely dispose of your medication when you no longer need it.

Until next time, I'm Kim Rae and this has been 'Ask the Pharmacist'.

I wish you good health.


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