For most people taking opioids, side effects are generally mild and manageable. However, opioids can cause serious side effects and your doctor may perform specific screening tests to make sure you are a good candidate to receive the drug.

The most common side effect is constipation. You may need to follow certain steps to prevent constipation. This includes taking a laxative or bowel stimulant medicine. If you are prescribed an opioid, ask your health care provider what you can do to prevent opioid-related constipation. Other possible side effects include upset stomach, confusion, difficulty sleeping, sexual problems and irritability. Many of these symptoms go away on their own after a few days. For persistent symptoms, your doctor may offer other medications like anti-nausea medicines to help manage side-effects.

Opioids can cause significant complications which may become life-threatening.
Complications can include:
Do not take medication that can make you sleepy at the same time that you take opioids. Do so only if a health care provider tells you to. Examples of medications that can make you sleepy include sleep aids, some anti-anxiety medications, antihistamines, and muscle relaxants. Also do not use alcohol when taking opioids.

Ask your health care provider or a pharmacist whether the opioid you take also has an over-the-counter medication in it. Knowing this can keep you from taking too much of any one medication.

It’s been estimated that between 3-19% of people that take an opioid will develop addiction. Addiction is a serious medical condition. When you are addicted, you become preoccupied with something, such as drugs and alcohol. You lose control over how much you use them or continue using them despite experiencing consequences.

The longer you use opioids, the more you risk becoming addicted to them. Even short-term use can result in addiction, especially for those at greatest risk. Studies show that of people that receive a one-day opioid prescription, 6% will still be using opioids at one year. Of people that receive a 30 day opioid prescription, 30% will still be using opioids at one year. More than 10 million Americans misuse opioids annually.

Health care providers try to reduce the risk of opioid addiction. They do a thorough evaluation before prescribing opioids, limit the number of pills prescribed and monitor you closely during treatment. This monitoring process may involve performing pill counts, urine drug screens and asking questions that may be difficult. They will also review your situation at each visit to make sure the benefits of opioid use outweigh the risks. If you are worried you are becoming addicted, talk with your provider right away. Effective treatments are available to manage the disorder.


Breathing problems can happen to anyone taking opioids. When breathing problems become severe, they can lead to death. This is called an opioid overdose. Breathing problems are most likely to happen if:

  • Taking opioids at the same time as certain other medications such as anxiety medications, sleeping medications or muscle relaxants.
  • You have heart or lung problems or problems such as emphysema, obstructive sleep apnea or congestive heart failure.
  • You have kidney or liver problems.
  • You use alcohol.
  • You have an addiction to opioids.

Before you take an opioid, be sure to tell your health care provider about:

  • All medicines or substances you take, including herbal products or dietary supplements.
  • Whether you or a family member has a substance-use disorder now or had one in the past.
  • Whether you or a family member has a mood or anxiety disorder.
  • Any other medical conditions you have, especially ones related to your heart and lungs. Opioids may not be safe to use if you have these conditions.

Carefully follow the directions your health care provider gives you about taking opioids.

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