Our Health Library information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Please be advised that this information is made available to assist our patients to learn more about their health. Our providers may not see and/or treat all topics found herein.
Information about this medicine
What are the most important things you need to know about your medicines?
Make sure you know about each of the medicines you take. This includes why you take it, how to take it, what you can expect while you're taking it, and any warnings about the medicine.
The information provided here is general. So be sure to read the information that came with your medicine. If you have any questions or concerns, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.
Why are opioids used?
Opioids are used to relieve moderate to severe pain. They may be used for a short time, such as after surgery, or for long-term pain.
Opioids don't cure a health problem. But they help you manage the pain.
What are some examples of opioids?
Here are some examples of opioids and other medicines that have opioids in them. For each item in the list, the generic name is first, followed by any brand names.
- codeine (Tylenol 3)
- hydrocodone (Norco)
- oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
This is not a complete list of opioids.
What about side effects?
Some people feel sleepy, feel dizzy or lightheaded, have nausea or vomiting, or become constipated while using an opioid.
General information about side effects
All medicines can cause side effects. Many people don't have side effects. And minor side effects sometimes go away after a while.
But sometimes side effects can be a problem or can be serious.
If you're having problems with side effects, talk to your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change to a different medicine.
Always be sure you get specific information on the medicine you're taking. For a full list of side effects, check the information that came with the medicine you're using. If you have questions, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.
Cautions about opioids
Cautions for opioids include the following:
- Some opioids have acetaminophen (Tylenol) in them, and taking too much acetaminophen can be harmful. So check the labels on all the other medicines you take, because many other medicines also contain acetaminophen. This includes over-the-counter medicines. Do not take other medicines with acetaminophen in them unless your doctor has told you to. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions about this.
- Do not drive or operate machinery until you can think clearly. Opioids may affect your judgment and decision making. Talk with your doctor about when it is safe to drive.
- Opioids are strong medicines. There is a risk for developing opioid use disorder. Moderate to severe opioid use disorder is sometimes called addiction. This means a person keeps using opioids even though it causes problems. The risk is greater for those with a history of substance use. Others who are more at risk are teenagers, older adults, people who have depression, and those who take high doses of this medicine.
- Your body gets used to opioids, which may lead to tolerance and physical dependence.
- Tolerance means that, over time, you may need to take more of the drug to keep getting the same amount of pain relief. The danger is that tolerance greatly increases your risk of overdose, breathing emergencies, and death.
- Physical dependence means your body has become used to having opioids, and you could have withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them. Symptoms include nausea, sweating, chills, diarrhea, and shaking. But you can avoid these symptoms if you slowly stop taking the medicine as your doctor tells you to.
If you're taking opioids as part of a supervised care plan, tolerance and withdrawal may not mean that you have opioid use disorder.
Cautions for all medicines
- Allergic reactions: All medicines can cause a reaction. This can sometimes be an emergency. Before you take any new medicine, tell the doctor or pharmacist about any past allergic reactions you've had.
- Drug interactions: Sometimes one medicine may keep another medicine from working well. Or you may get a side effect you didn't expect. Medicines may also interact with certain foods or drinks, like grapefruit juice and alcohol. Some interactions can be dangerous.
- Harm to unborn babies and newborns: If you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding, ask your doctor or pharmacist if any of the medicines you take could harm your baby.
- Other health problems: Before taking a medicine, be sure your doctor or pharmacist knows about all your health problems. Other health problems may affect your medicine. Or the medicine for one health problem may affect another health problem.
Always tell your doctor or pharmacist about all the medicines you take. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. That information will help prevent serious problems.
Always be sure you get specific information on the medicine you're taking. For a full list of warnings, check the information that came with the medicine you're using. If you have questions, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.
Current as of: March 28, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2019 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.