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Safe Use of Long-Acting Opiates - Topic Overview

Long-acting opiate pain relievers are medicines used to relieve moderate to severe long-term pain. They are also called extended-release opiates. Opiates relieve pain by changing the way your body feels pain. They don't cure a health problem, but they help you manage the pain.

If you take a lot of short-acting medicine, your doctor may give you long-acting opiates. Long-acting opiates help you avoid the ups and downs in pain relief that you may have with short-acting medicine.

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Opiates are powerful medicines. When taken on schedule and as your doctor prescribes, they work well and are safe. But misuse can cause overdose, dependency, addiction, or death.

Examples of long-acting opiates

  • Fentanyl patch (Duragesic)
  • Methadone (Dolophine)
  • Morphine ER (Avinza)
  • Oxycodone controlled-release (OxyContin)

Safety tips when using long-acting opiates

To avoid taking too much (overdose) of these medicines:

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Do not take extra doses. Even one extra dose can be dangerous. Taking too much of these medicines can cause death.
  • Be sure to contact your doctor if you miss a dose of your medicine and aren't sure what to do. Do not double your dose.
  • Do not break, crush, or chew a pill. Do not cut or tear a patch.

To use long-acting opiates safely:

  • Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • Do not drink alcohol or take illegal drugs.
  • Do not drive or operate machinery until you can think clearly. Opiates may affect your judgment and decision making. Talk with your doctor about when it is safe to drive.
  • Keep your medicine in a safe and secure place away from children and pets.
  • Check with your doctor or pharmacist before you use any other medicines, including over-the-counter medicines.
    • Make sure your doctor knows all of the medicines, vitamins, herbal products, and supplements you take.
    • Taking opiates with other medicines that make you sleepy or relaxed (sedatives) can be dangerous.

Possible side effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. You may:

  • Feel confused or have a hard time thinking clearly.
  • Be constipated.
  • Feel faint, dizzy, or lightheaded.
  • Be short of breath.
  • Feel drowsy.
  • Feel sick to your stomach or vomit.
  • Have an allergic reaction.

Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.

What to know about taking this medicine

  • Opiate pain relievers are strong medicines that can be very helpful in treating pain, especially after an injury or surgery. They are safest when you use them exactly as your doctor prescribes. But there is a risk of addiction when you take them for more than a few days. The risk is lower if you follow your doctor's instructions on how to take them. Your risk is slightly higher if you or someone in your family has a history of substance abuse. If you are worried about addiction, talk with your doctor.
  • Ask for written instructions from your doctor or pharmacist about how to safely get rid of any medicine that's left over.
  • Call your doctor if the dose you are taking doesn't control your pain.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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