Avoiding addiction when powerful opioid painkillers are needed, from the November 2013 Harvard Health Letter

Sometimes the best way to ease pain is with the type of prescription painkiller known as an opioid. Despite their "addictive" reputation in the media, the majority of people use opioids safely and without addition, reports the November 2013 Harvard Health Letter. Opioids are a class of painkillers with high addictive potential. They include oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), hydromorphone (Dilaudid), and meperidine (Demerol). Opioids are typically used for the short term, such as for treating severe pain following surgery. They are also sometimes used long-term for relieving pain related to cancer or a terminal illness. For minor surgical pain or injuries, it's best to limit the use of an opioid to no more than seven days. Using one for more than 30 days leads to dependence. That means a person begins to suffer withdrawal symptoms if he or she abruptly stops taking the medication. With long-term use, some individuals need more of these drugs to achieve the same effect. Keep in mind that dependence is not the same as addiction, which is characterized by compulsive use and preoccupation with the drug that interferes with normal life.
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