Powerful prescription painkillers known as opioids are often involved in accidental overdoses, so experts offer tips on how to take these highly addictive medications safely.

"Prescription painkiller misuse is a growing epidemic. However, most people who abuse these drugs are struggling with an addiction they never intended to have," said John Ulczycki, vice president of strategic initiatives at the National Safety Council. "This National Safety Month, we hope to educate Americans on proper use so they can relieve pain without the tragic consequences of drug dependence or death."

Dr. Don Teater, a medical advisor at the National Safety Council provided the following five tips to help ensure the safe use of prescription painkillers:

  • Consider other options. Talk to your doctor about other medications that may be more effective in controlling your pain. In most cases, Teater noted, over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAID), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, are better options for pain management. They also have fewer side effects. NSAIDs can also be combined with acetaminophen to make them more effective.
  • Limit usage. Prescription painkillers should be taken for the shortest time possible. If your doctor recommends taking one of these drugs for pain management, request a two- to three-day prescription instead of a seven- to 10-day supply.
  • Consider side effects. While taking prescription painkillers you may not be able to drive or operate machinery safely. Your judgment may also be affected. Be aware of how these drugs affect your thinking and your coordination.
  • Don't share. Of those who abuse prescription painkillers, 75 percent got the drugs from friends or family members. It is illegal to share prescription medication. It's also dangerous. Be sure to store your pills in a locked box to prevent them from being used improperly or stolen.
  • Don't mix. Prescription painkillers should not be combined with alcohol. Certain medications can also interfere with these drugs. Let your doctor know about all the medications you are taking, including over-the-counter remedies and supplements.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse provides more information on opioids.

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