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Ask the doctor: How safe are opioid pain relievers?

July 16, 2014


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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.

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