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Prescription opioids are a category of commonly prescribed painkillers. Doctors prescribe them, typically in pill form, to help patients with severe or chronic pain. When they’re properly prescribed and taken as directed by a medical professional, they’re relatively safe and can be beneficial. But there is always a risk of addiction. And that risk increases greatly when you abuse prescription painkillers.

When considering taking opioids, weigh the risks of addiction and overdose against the expected benefits. Non-opioid medications or pain treatment options that do not involve prescription drugs can be effective with less risk. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (such as ibuprofen and others) may be as effective as or better than opioid medications for some types of pain. Also, research shows that physical therapy can help manage pain and improve your body’s function with less risk than prescription opioids.

What is prescription painkiller abuse?

  • Taking prescription painkillers in a way that was not prescribed, such as taking too many pills at one time, combining pills with alcohol or other drugs, or crushing pills into powder to snort or inject them.
  • Taking someone else’s prescription painkiller, even if you’re doing so for the medication’s intended purpose (e.g., to ease pain).
  • Taking prescription painkillers for the sole purpose of feeling good or getting high.

Repeated abuse of prescription painkillers can lead to addiction and even death.

Who is at risk for addiction?

People who abuse prescription painkillers have a greater risk of addiction than people who take them as prescribed—but it’s important to remember that the medication itself is addictive. Even someone who takes opioids as prescribed by a doctor can develop a physical dependence on the drug, especially if prescribed for several weeks or more. Mixing opioids with other drugs, such as benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax®, Valium®, and Ativan®) can be especially dangerous.

When people become dependent on a prescription painkiller and stop using it, they will likely experience withdrawal symptoms including restlessness, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, anger, depression, muscle or bone pain, nausea and more. Therefore, the risk of addiction should be weighed against the benefits of the medication and any concerns should be discussed with your doctor.

What are the dangers of prescription painkillers?

Taking just one dose too large can cause serious health problems and potentially lead to death. Here’s a dose of reality: Deaths from unintended drug overdoses have been rising sharply in recent years. In 2016, prescription painkillers accounted for more than 14,400 deaths in the United States—about 40 a day.

Remember, the risk of overdose and death increases exponentially when prescription painkillers are combined with other drugs or alcohol.

Common Prescription Opioid Painkillers

Oxycodone Brand Names: OxyContin®, Percodan®, Percocet®
Hydrocodone Brand Names: Vicodin®, Lortab®, Lorcet®
Diphenoxylate Brand Names: Lomotil®
Morphine Brand Names: Kadian®, Avinza®, MS Contin®
Codeine Various Brand Names
Fentanyl Brand Name: Duragesic®
Propoxyphene Brand Name: Darvon®
Hydromorphone Brand Name: Dilaudid®
Meperidine Brand Name: Demerol®
Methadone Various Brand Namesv