What should I know before taking opioids?

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Before prescribing an opioid for low back pain, your doctor should order a urine test to check for other drugs you might be taking. Your doctor should also talk to you about how to measure how well the drug is controlling your pain, side effects, and when and how you will stop taking it. A follow-up appointment should be scheduled for 1 to 2 weeks after you start taking the drug.

If you take an opioid, you should not drink alcohol. Mixing alcohol and opioids can cause a fatal overdose. If you take methadone, you should avoid grapefruit and grapefruit juice.

If you have had gastrointestinal surgery in the past few months, an opioid may not be a good option for you.

If you have a seizure disorder (epilepsy), aspirin-sensitive asthma, or chronic lung disease, opioids can lead to serious side effects.

If you have an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia), hypothyroidism, impaired kidney function, impaired liver function, or primary adrenocortical insufficiency (Addison disease), an opioid may not be a good option for you.

Because of their potential for abuse and dependence, opioids are not a good option for people who have had a substance use problem, or for people with psychiatric conditions, such as depression.

An opioid may not be a good option for you if you are pregnant, may be pregnant, or are planning a pregnancy. It is not known if they are safe for pregnant women.

Some opioids may not be safe or effective for children and adolescents. Consult individual drug labels.

If you are breastfeeding, an opioid may not be a good option for you.

This answer was adapted from Sharecare's award-winning AskMD app. Start a consultation now to find out what's causing your symptoms, learn how to manage a condition, or find a doctor.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.