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Understand the safer options for treating pain.

More than 50 million Americans are living with chronic pain*, and even more people have suffered from some type of pain related to surgeries or injuries. Pain is an inevitable part of the human experience, but that doesn’t mean dangerously addictive opioids need to be.

Opioids are a class of drugs commonly used to reduce pain. The illegal drug heroin is an opioid, as are many of the prescription pain relievers prescribed by doctors, including oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and others.

Opioids can negatively affect the reward center in the brain, causing users to need more and more over time. As a result, the drug can be highly addictive, leading people to misuse the drug at an alarming rate. In fact, opioids are now one of the leading causes of injury-related deaths in Washington state. More people die from overdose than from car crashes.

One of the best ways to prevent opioid abuse is to avoid the powerful drug altogether. Many people don’t know there are many options that might actually work better than prescription opioids for reducing and managing pain — with fewer risks and side effects.

If a doctor prescribes you or a loved one an opioid prescription, don’t hesitate to ask questions and discuss your options. As an alternative to using opioids for treating pain, you might:

  • Try a milder pain reliever first. Opioids aren't the only prescription drugs on the market. Over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) have fewer risks than opioids, and depending on your type of pain, could be better for finding relief.
  • Talk with a behavioral health provider. Psychological strategies — such as cognitive behavioral therapy — could help you learn to recognize and modify physical, behavioral and emotional triggers that cause pain and stress.
  • Turn to other therapies. Physical therapy or other therapies such as acupuncture or massage can be highly effective. A healthy diet and regular exercise have also been known to reduce chronic pain for many people.

If you and your doctor determine an opioid prescription is necessary after discussing the risks and alternatives, there are still many steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones from misuse. Ask your provider to prescribe a small number of opioids until you can switch to a milder pain reliever to manage your pain. Also, lock up your medication and dispose of expired or unused pills safely at a take-back program near you ( — 75 percent of opioid misuse starts with people using medication that wasn’t prescribed for them.

When it comes to preventing opioid misuse, you can make a difference. One honest conversation with your doctor about alternatives to managing pain can help keep you and your family safe.


Sources: Washington Healthy Youth Coalition, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (*, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Washington State Department of Health