Make sure you know about each of the medicines you take. This includes why you take it, how to take it, what you can expect while you're taking it, and any warnings about the medicine.
The information provided here is general. So be sure to read the information that came with your medicine. If you have any questions or concerns, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.
What are some examples of opioids?
Opioids or other medicines that contain them include:
- Codeine (Tylenol 3).
- Hydrocodone (Norco).
- Oxycodone (Percocet).
Why are opioids used?
Opioids are used to relieve moderate to severe pain. They may be used for a short time, such as after surgery, or for long-term pain when safer options don't help.
Opioids don't cure a health problem. But they may help you manage the pain and help you function better.
What about side effects?
Side effects include:
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Feeling sleepy.
- Trouble urinating.
- Low sex drive.
- Needing larger doses over time.
You may have other side effects or reactions. Check the information that comes with your medicine.
General information about side effects
All medicines can cause side effects. Many people don't have side effects. And minor side effects sometimes go away after a while.
But sometimes side effects can be a problem or can be serious.
If you're having problems with side effects, talk to your doctor. Your doctor may be able to lower your dose or change to a different medicine.
Always be sure you get specific information on the medicine you're taking. For a full list of side effects, check the information that came with the medicine you're using. If you have questions, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.
What are some cautions about opioids?
Cautions for opioids include the following:
- Some opioids have acetaminophen (Tylenol) in them, and taking too much acetaminophen can be harmful. So check the labels on all the other medicines you take, because many other medicines also contain acetaminophen. This includes over-the-counter medicines. Do not take other medicines with acetaminophen in them unless your doctor has told you to. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions about this.
- Do not drive or operate machinery until you can think clearly. Opioids may affect your judgment and decision making. Talk with your doctor about when it is safe to drive.
- Opioids are strong medicines. There is a risk for developing opioid use disorder. Moderate to severe opioid use disorder is sometimes called addiction. This means a person keeps using opioids even though it causes problems. The risk is greater for those who have a history of substance use. If you are worried about developing opioid use disorder, talk with your doctor.
- Taking opioids if you have certain health conditions, such as sleep apnea, can slow your breathing rate and lead to serious harm. Opioids can also be dangerous if you take them with alcohol or other drugs like sleeping pills and muscle relaxers. This can lead to an accidental overdose and death.
- Your body gets used to opioids if you take them for a long time. This is called physical dependence. You could have withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them. Symptoms include nausea, sweating, chills, diarrhea, and shaking. But you can avoid these symptoms if you slowly stop taking the medicine as your doctor tells you to.
General cautions for all medicines
- Allergic reactions.
- All medicines can cause a reaction. This can sometimes be an emergency. Before you take any new medicine, tell the doctor or pharmacist about any past allergic reactions you've had.
- Drug interactions.
- Sometimes one medicine may keep another medicine from working well. Or you may get a side effect you didn't expect. Medicines may also interact with certain foods or drinks, like grapefruit juice and alcohol. Some interactions can be dangerous.
- Harm during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
- If you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding, ask your doctor or pharmacist if all the medicines you take are safe.
- Other health problems.
- Before taking a medicine, be sure your doctor or pharmacist knows about all your health problems. The medicine for one health problem may affect another health problem.
Always tell your doctor or pharmacist about all the medicines you take. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. That information will help prevent serious problems.
Always be sure you get specific information on the medicine you're taking. For a full list of warnings, check the information that came with the medicine you're using. If you have questions, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.
Current as of: November 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine