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Mental Health & Substance Use

Opioid addiction: Get the facts and get help

January 2, 2021
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Opioid misuse is becoming increasingly prevalent in the United States. The current opioid crisis has serious implications for public health and for social and economic welfare.

Many people have a personal connection to opioid misuse. More than half of Americans know someone who has taken a prescription painkiller that was not prescribed to them, know someone who has been addicted, or know someone who has died from prescription opioid overdose.

As such, it is important for people who are addicted to opioids to be able to get help.

Common Questions About Opioids and the Opioid Crisis

The increase in opioid overdose1 deaths is one of our nation’s largest public health concerns. Opioids are responsible for over 49,000 drug overdose1 deaths in the U.S. every year. More than 60% of drug overdose deaths involve some type of opioid.

The “opioid crisis” refers to the increased use of prescription and non-prescription opioid1 drugs for pain management in the U.S. The crisis started in the late 1990s and continues today. As prescriptions for these medications rose, addiction to opioids increased.

Opioids are drugs that reduce pain. Common opioids include:

  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (Percocet, Oxycontin)
  • Codeine
  • Methadone (Dolophine, Metadol)
  • Fentanyl (Sublimaze, Instanyl)
  • Morphine (Kadian, Avinza)

Please click here for a complete list.1

Prescription opioids are usually safe when prescribed for a short time. Opioids are very addictive when they are taken for too long or misused. Opioid misuse includes:

  • Taking the medicine in a way or dose other than prescribed by a doctor
  • Taking someone else’s prescription medicine
  • Taking the medicine because it makes you feel relaxed or “high”

Even when used correctly, pain medications (like opioids) can result in addiction. Addictive substances change the way the brain works. They affect the areas of the brain that regulate:

  • Feelings of well-being
  • Memory and learning
  • Response to stress
  • Decision-making

People can often feel ill when the drug effects wear off. This is commonly called “withdrawal.” It can make it hard to stop taking the medication. Over time, the user may also feel the need to take higher doses to experience the original relief.

There are many effective treatments for managing addiction, like medication and counseling. Together, these two treatments can often help people control their addiction.

Besides addiction and overdose, opioids can cause other side effects. These side effects can occur even when opioids are taken as directed by a doctor. Some common side effects include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Confusion
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Dry mouth
  • Higher sensitivity to pain
  • Itching and sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Physical dependence, resulting in withdrawal symptoms if stopped
  • Sleepiness and dizziness
  • Tolerance—having to take higher doses to get the same effect
  • As with all medications, only take opioids as directed.
  • Never take more pills—or take pills more often—than prescribed.
  • Talk with your doctor if you have concerns about side effects, including addiction.
  • Exercise your right to take fewer pills than those prescribed by a doctor.
  • Limit the use of pain medications to a short period of time, such as following a surgery.
  • Get support and guidance from your doctor and CCA care team.
  • Avoid alcohol while taking opioids.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist if it’s okay to take opioids with your other medications.
  • Store all medicines in a secure place that’s out of the reach of children and others.
  • Never share pain medication with other people.
  • Limit your opioid prescription to only one doctor or medical practice.
  • Get all your medications from only one pharmacy. This will help pharmacists identify potential drug-to-drug interactions or safety issues.
  • Follow up often with your doctor and CCA care team about your care.
  • If you are in recovery from addiction and need surgery, your CCA care team can help you safely use opioids during your recovery from surgery to manage pain. They can also help you resume medication used for addiction that may have been stopped before your surgery.
  • Talk to your doctor and CCA care partner about getting Naloxone (“Narcan”).

Naloxone (“Narcan”) reverses the life-threatening effects of an opioid overdose. Some people use opioids to manage serious pain. To support the same use of opioids, CCA provides all members access to Narcan at no cost. You don’t need an opioid or Narcan prescription to get it. Just ask for Narcan at your pharmacy and show the pharmacist your CCA member ID card. Your care partner can train you on how to use it. There is no shame in getting Narcan. It saves lives.

Yes! Talk with your doctor about other types of care that might help you. These might include non-opioid medications or other treatment. Treatment such as physical therapy, aqua therapy, massage therapy, and acupuncture may be appropriate as well. CCA may cover these benefits, if:

  • This is a part of your care plan, and
  • You received prior approval (also called an “authorization”).

Opioids could be addictive for anyone. Some people might have more risk for opioid addiction than others. Talk to your doctor and CCA care team about your risk. Someone may be considered “at-risk” for misuse or addiction if they:

  • Use high doses of opioids for 6 months or more
  • Use 3 or more doctors to get their opioids
  • Use 3 or more pharmacies to pick up their opioid prescriptions
  • Have a history of past addiction

Help with Opioids for CCA Members

If you are in recovery from addiction and need surgery, your CCA care team can help you safely use opioids during your recovery from surgery to manage pain. They can work with your doctors and provide the support you need to restart any addiction medication you were taking before surgery.

If you have other questions that aren’t answered here, please talk to your care partner or call Member Services at 866-610-2273 (TTY 711). If you receive a letter from CCA about your opioid use and have questions, please talk to your CCA care partner.

The opioid crisis affects everyone. We can all do our part to end the epidemic by recognizing the signs of opioid misuse and helping those who are struggling get the care and resources they need to overcome their addiction.

1 When you click this link, you will leave the Commonwealth Care Alliance website.

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