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Is my painkiller an opioid?

Updated August 1, 2017

Ask the doctors

Q. I'm currently taking a pill that combines 5 milligrams (mg) of oxycodone and 325 mg of acetaminophen. It keeps my pain under control and doesn't seem to interfere with other medicines I'm taking. However, I was reading about opioids and wonder if it falls in that category. If it does, should I be taking it?

A. Oxycodone is an opioid, but acetaminophen, the generic form of Tylenol, isn't. A combination of the two, sold as Endocet, Percocet, and Roxicet, as well as in a generic version, is a popular medication for pain control. Both oxycodone and acetaminophen should be used with caution. Oxycodone should be taken for the shortest time possible because long-term use of oxycodone has been associated with addiction and dependence. High doses of acetaminophen can cause liver damage.

This is your brain on alcohol

Published July 14, 2017

Moderate drinking may have negative long-term effects on the brain’s health, but as yet the research is inconclusive, and must be weighed alongside the evidence that moderate alcohol consumption benefits the heart. If you’re a moderate or light drinker trying to decide whether to cut back for health reasons, you probably want to consider a variety of factors.

Working on addiction in the workplace

Published June 30, 2017

Addiction among employees costs American businesses billions each year, so it’s in employers’ interest to promote a healthy, drug-free workplace and facilitate treatment for those employees who seek it.

Safe injection sites and reducing the stigma of addiction

Published June 2, 2017

The scope of the opioid crisis in the US has led some individuals and communities to revise their view of addiction and substance use disorders. One idea being considered is creating supervised injection facilities that would provide a safe environment and make treatment resources available to those who want them.

7 questions to ask when you’re given a prescription for an opioid

Updated June 1, 2017

A discussion with your doctor may minimize your chance of becoming dependent on or addicted to these powerful painkillers.

Opioid misuse is now one of most important health problems in the United States, rivaling smoking as a cause of death. Although news reports tend to focus on an opioid crisis among the young, the opioid epidemic is increasingly affecting older people as well. In fact, the rates of hospitalization for opioid overdoses among Medicare recipients quintupled from 1993 through 2012. Although older people are still less likely than younger ones to become addicted or succumb to opioid overdoses, they are more likely to suffer side effects from extended opioid use, including memory and cognition problems and falls.

"Opioid use and pain management is something we deal with constantly," says Dr. Michael L. Barnett, assistant professor of health policy at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. According to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly one-third of Medicare beneficiaries received at least one prescription for opioids in 2015, and those who did got an average of five such prescriptions or refills. Dr. Barnett and a team of his colleagues decided to investigate how Medicare recipients get opioid prescriptions in the first place.

Drinking — and binge drinking — growing more common among older women

Updated June 1, 2017

Research we're watching

A new study from researchers at the National Institutes of Health indicates that the rate of drinking in general, and binge drinking in particular, is rising faster among women ages 60 or older than among their male contemporaries. When the researchers analyzed data from National Health Interview Surveys from 1997 through 2014, they found that the proportion of older women drinkers increased at a rate of 1.6% a year, compared with 0.7% for older men. Binge drinking — defined as imbibing four or more drinks within two hours — increased by 3.7% annually among older women, but held steady among older men. The results were reported online March 24, 2017, by Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The researchers speculated that baby boomers, who tended to drink more than earlier generations did in youth, have continued their habits as they've aged. Whatever the reason, the trend doesn't bode well for older women's health. Because of biological differences, at any level of alcohol consumption, women have a higher blood alcohol concentration than men, putting them at greater risk of cognitive impairment and falls. It's a good idea to limit alcohol consumption to seven drinks a week, with no more than three drinks at a sitting.

Opioid addiction: Long-term treatment for a chronic condition

Published May 5, 2017

Studies suggest that extended medication-assisted treatment is more effective in treating opioid addiction than short term use. This strategy may prove an important part of addressing the opioid crisis.

When a loved one is addicted to opiates

Published April 19, 2017

Considering the death toll from opioid overdoses, responding to loved one’s opioid addiction love and empathy might be the safer and more effective method for friends and families to take. At the same time, It is essential to pay attention to the wellbeing of the family members themselves, as having a loved one with a substance use disorder can be profoundly stressful and disruptive, even traumatic.

Binge drinking continues to rise — particularly among women and seniors

Published April 18, 2017

Data from several surveys indicate that the percentage of women who drink has been increasing for decades. The numerous health effects associated with alcohol consumption mean that women should be especially attentive to how much they drink.

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