Know the risks

"Let's talk about the risks."

Prescription opioids come with risks and serious side effects and should be a last resort when managing pain. Now and always, there are better ways to manage pain and heal safely.

Doctor wearing stethoscope

Take charge of your healing.

Until recently, opioid painkillers were seen by many patients and health professionals as the best way to manage serious pain after an injury or surgery. We now know opioids should be avoided unless you and your doctor decide together that they are necessary to manage the most severe pain during the first day or two of recovery.

With changes to health care during COVID-19, you may be unsure how to get the care you need. Talk with your doctor to learn about safe options for healing and how to access them.

Common opioid painkillers:


Vicodin® (Hydrocodone)

Demerol® (Meperidine)



OxyContin® (Oxycodone)


Top six risks and downsides

1 of 6: Physical dependence

Your body can become dependent on opioid painkillers in just a few days. This makes it hard to stop taking them and can make you seriously ill when you do.

Dowell, D., Haegerich, T.M., & Chou, R. (2016). CDC guideline for prescribing opioids for chronic pain — United States, 2016. Morbidity and Mortality Recommended Reports. 65(RR-1):1–49.

Illustrated person experiencing illness and discomfort

2 of 6: Dizziness, constipation and other side effects

Opioid painkillers can cause a number of uncomfortable side effects that interfere with your life and your healing. They can make you drowsy, groggy, constipated, nauseated and dizzy. Often, you are not allowed to drive while you are taking them.

Benyamin, R., Trescot, A., Datta, S., Buenaventura, R., Adlaka, R., Sehgal, N., Glaser, S.E., & Vallejo, R. (2008). Opioid complications and side effects.  Pain Physician; 11, S105-S120.

Illustrated person experiencing dizziness

3 of 6: Disrupted sleep and slower healing

Although they make you drowsy, opioid painkillers actually prevent deep sleep. Not getting deep sleep can worsen your pain and slow your healing.

Shanmugam, V.K., Couch, K.S., McNish, S., & Amdur,  R.L. (2017).  Relationship between opioid treatment and rate of healing in chronic wounds. Wound Repair and Regeneration: Official Publication of the Wound Healing Society and the European Tissue Repair Society. 25(1):120-130.

Illustrated person with bandage and clock implying slowed healing

4 of 6: Cloudy thinking

Opioid painkillers cloud your thinking, making it difficult to be there for loved ones or take care of your own basic needs while recovering.

Bruce Scott, MD, FACP. (2014). Side Effects of Opioids. Retrieved from

Illustrated person with head encircled by clouds

5 of 6: Risk of re-injury

Opioid painkillers mask important signals your body is giving you. This can lead you to do things you're not physically ready for and risk hurting yourself all over again.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2014). Pain: hope through research. Retrieved from

Injured illustrated person inside of cycling arrows

6 of 6: Need for higher doses

As your body gets used to prescription opioids, they quickly become less effective at easing pain. This can lead you to take stronger doses—increasing the risk of physical dependence.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (August 28, 2017). Opioid overdose: commonly used terms. Retrieved from

Illustration of a small stack of pills becoming a larger stack

“I’m a single parent, so I needed to be able to drive my kids to school and take care of them after my surgery. I didn’t want painkillers to get in the way. ”

Kathy worked with her doctor to use as little prescription pain medicine as possible.