Going Home with Opioid Medicines

Opioid (oh-pee-oid) medicines are used to treat severe pain.

They are also listed by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) as controlled substances.  This means they are regulated for safety because of their significant side effects and the risk of addiction. 

Some common opioid medicines include:

  • Hydromorphone (also called Dilaudid, Exalgo)
  • Morphine (also called MS Contin, Oramorph SR, Roxanol, Kadian, Embeda, MSIR)
  • Oxycodone (also called Oxycontin, Percocet)
  • Tapentadol (also called Nucynta)
  • Fentanyl (also called Duragesic, Fentanyl Oralet)
  • Methadone (also called Dolophine)
  • Hydrocodone
  • Ultram (also called Tramadol)  

These medicines may have other names so you need to make sure to ask your pharmacist if you have any questions about the medicine.  

Talk to your doctor before taking any of these medicines if you have breathing problems or have had trouble with drug or alcohol abuse in the past. Opioids are known to often have adverse side effects; however, addiction and breathing problems are rare when used correctly.

Things to know before you begin taking this medicine:

  • Do not take any other prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medicines without first talking to your doctor.
  • Do not drive or operate any heavy machinery, or make important decisions while taking opioid medicines.
  • Do not take opioids with other sedating medicines unless you have talked to the doctor and are told to do so.
  • Do not share or give the medicine to anyone else.
  • Do not take the medicine unless it was prescribed for you.
  • Read the insert that comes with the medicine to learn more about the how it works and any possible side effects.
  • Take the medicine exactly as your doctor ordered. 

Things to know while taking this medicine:

  • Keep the medicine in a safe place out of the reach of children.  It is best to keep it in a locked cabinet or drawer.
  • Flush unused medicine down the toilet.
  • If you use a pain patch, be sure to keep it away from children and animals.
  • Do not stop this medicine without talking to your healthcare provider; it may cause you to have withdrawal symptoms.
  • Do not break, chew, crush, dissolve, or inject the medicine.
  • Do not drink alcohol while taking this medicine.
  • Do not use medicines after the expiration date on the bottle / package.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider:
    • If the current medicine dose does not control your pain
    • About any side effects
  • Call the Drug and Poison Information Center if the person who took the drug is still awake and alert.

513-636-5111 or 1-800-222-1222

  • Call 911 if the person who took the drug is becoming very sleepy.

Common side effects may include:

  • Constipation  (the doctor may also give medicine to help with this)
  • Nausea / vomiting
  • Sleepiness / dizziness – Be careful when doing anything that requires you to be alert, such as climbing stairs, bike riding, in-line skating.
  • Itching
  • Hallucinations
  • Falls
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slowed breathing – This is the most serious side effect; it usually occurs right after taking the opioid medicine.

Call your doctor if any of the following symptoms develop:

  • Rash
  • Constipation
  • Unable to urinate (pee)

Call 911 if any of these symptoms develop:

  • Extreme sleepiness or trouble waking up
  • Person is not responding to your voice
  • Trouble breathing


Patients who take opioids for a long period of time can develop a tolerance to them.  This means they may need a higher dose of medicine to help control acute pain.

Addiction / Dependence  

Long-term use of opioid medicines can be addictive.  Our goal is to treat the pain while also using the lowest dose effective for the least amount of time to prevent any undue side effects.


Patients who abruptly stop taking opioid medicines after becoming tolerant or dependent on them may have withdrawal symptoms.  Symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Agitation or being anxious
  • Sweatiness
  • Palpitations (fast heart beat)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea / vomiting
  • Goose bumps

Harm to Unborn Baby

Controlled substances can pose risks to unborn babies.  Do not take these medicines while pregnant.  This can lead to the baby being born tolerant to the medicine and having withdrawal symptoms after delivery. 

If your child has any unusual, unexpected or severe side effects from taking opioid medicines, call your primary care doctor right away or go to your local emergency room.  In cases of extreme adverse reaction or side effects, call 911 or your local emergency number. 

Last Updated 03/2016