Treating Pain with Opioids

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Whether you have a chronic condition or are recovering from surgery or an injury, pain can interfere with your day-to-day life. At UVA Health, we’re dedicated to helping you find relief. This may include prescribing opioids in a safe and responsible way.

Keeping You Safe and Pain-Free

We understand the risks involved with opioids. But we also know they are effective in helping you manage pain. And we have a special program in place to keep you safe.

Successful recovery from any condition depends on honest communication and cooperation between you and your doctor. This openness is imperative because of an opioid epidemic: About 1 in 3 patients taking opioids misuse or abuse them. About 10% of opioid users become addicted. Each year, tens of thousands of people die from an opioid overdose.

What are Opioids?

Opioids are a group of drugs that are very effective at reducing pain. A number of medicines and drugs, including illegal ones, fall into this category:

  • Opium
  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Oxycodone
  • Fentanyl
  • Methadone
  • Percocet
  • Heroin

Understanding Tolerance, Dependence, and Addiction

As you continue using opioids, you’ll develop a tolerance to them. That means you’ll need more of the opioid to get the same level of pain relief as time goes on.

The longer you use opioids, the more likely that you can develop a physical dependence. That means you feel sick when you stop using the medicine, experiencing withdrawal. Dependence might cause you to keep using the medicine to avoid feeling sick instead of controlling your pain. Symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Aches
  • Sweats
  • Chills

Dependence can also lead to physical addiction. You can’t stop using the medicine and your opioid use interferes with your life.

Dependence can affect your mood and behavior, leading to:

  • Big mood swings
  • Irritability or confusion
  • Poor decision-making
  • Poor judgment

Signs of dependence or addiction include:

  • Taking an opioid differently than prescribed
  • Taking medications for the feeling rather than pain relief
  • Taking more opioids than prescribed
  • Requesting prescriptions early
  • Taking opioids when not in pain
  • Getting multiple prescriptions from different doctors
  • “Borrowing” opioids from others

How UVA Helps You Navigate Opioid Use

Our team will partner with you throughout your pain management journey. We’ll help you understand what to expect when you use opioids. We offer education on responsible opioid use. We’ll monitor how much you use and whether you need more for your pain. We’ll also help you stop using opioids if you develop a dependence or addiction.

To help you understand your risks and keep you safe, we use a controlled substance contract. The contract asks that you: 

  • Give the most accurate medical history you can
  • Tell your doctor about any and all side effects 
  • Only get a prescription from your doctor 
  • Only use the medicine you got from that prescription
  • Not sell, lend, or share your medicine with anyone else
  • Use only one pharmacy to get your medicine
  • Only take this medication as prescribed
  • Take a test to measure how much of the medicine is in your body if your doctor asks
  • Keep your medication in a safe and secure place
  • Attend all appointments 
  • Avoid alcohol and any sedatives or mood-altering drugs 
  • Be respectful of clinical staff
  • Understand that we review your records on a regular basis
  • Let your doctor know if you become pregnant