Managing pain safely

The opioid crisis has been in the headlines for quite a while now. An estimated 115 Americans die each day from opioid overdose, according to federal estimates. Bexar County leads the state in infant opioid withdrawal and has the third-highest rate of overdose deaths in Texas.

Dr. Bryan Alsip, executive vice president and chief medical officer at University Health, described it this way in an article he wrote for the San Antonio Express-News with Dr. Colleen Bridger, director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District:

“No sector of our society is immune," Dr. Alsip wrote. "Opioid misuse, addiction and overdose can be found in boardrooms and back alleys, among the highly educated and the homeless. Like any epidemic, it is blind to where you live or how much you earn.”

Joint Opioid Task Force

Dr. Alsip and Dr. Bridger are co-chairs of the Joint Opioid Task Force, a group of health professionals, community leaders, educators and advocates working to find local solutions to the opioid crisis.

University Health has information online for those prescribed opioids after an injury or procedure.

While these medicines can be an important part of your treatment, they also carry some significant risks of addiction and overdose. An overdose, often marked by slowed breathing, can cause sudden death.

Opioid Side Effects

Opioids also can have side effects, particularly after prolonged use — even when used as directed. They include:

  • Tolerance
  • Physical dependence
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Sleepiness
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Low levels of testosterone,
  • Itching
  • Sweating

These risks are greater with a history of drug misuse, mental health conditions, sleep apnea, older age and pregnancy.

Complications of Prescription Opioids

Avoid drinking alcohol while taking prescription opioids. Also, unless specifically advised by your health care provider, avoid taking:

  • Benzodiazepines such as Xanax or Valium
  • Muscle relaxants such as Soma or Flexeril
  • Hypnotics such as Ambien or Lunesta 
  • Other prescription opioids

Storing and Disposing of Opioids

Store your medications in a secure place and out of reach of visitors, children, friends and family. If you have unused medication, safely dispose of it. The San Antonio Water System and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency both sponsor regular community drug take-back programs.

Ask your pharmacy about mail-back or other disposal programs.

Get Opioid Support at University Health

If you think you have a problem with addiction, seek help from your health care provider or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

You can learn more about opioids, including how to use and dispose of them safely, as well as alternative ways to control pain, on our website. You can also request support through our online form.

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