Harvard Women's Health Watch

Ask the doctor: How safe are opioid pain relievers?

Image: Thinkstock

Q. My doctor suggested I take a long-acting opioid like oxycodone to manage my pain, but I have heard so much frightening news about opioids recently that I am anxious about trying it. Are opioids a safe option for chronic pain?

A. There has been a lot of news coverage lately about opioid misuse, overdose, and addiction. You are justified in feeling apprehensive about starting on a long-acting opioid, but these drugs are appropriate for managing chronic pain. In fact, the long-acting formulations of medications like morphine and oxycodone were designed specifically for that purpose. Ask your doctor about another drug called fentanyl (Duragesic), which is applied as a patch once every three days. Before you take any of these medicines, it's really important to have a detailed conversation with your doctor about your treatment goals, how to take the medication safely, and what side effects you can expect. See your doctor for a follow-up visit within a few weeks after you start taking the opioid to make sure it's working and that the side effects aren't too burdensome.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »