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Discuss Your Prescriptions With Your Health Care Provider

More than 30,000 people died in the United States in 2015 from an opioid overdose. Ninety-one people die every day because of opioid misuse and abuse, including prescription medications and synthetic opioid overdoses. The number of overdose deaths in this country has quadrupled over the past 15 years.

More than 700 people in Alabama died from a drug overdose in 2015. Our state has the highest level of opioid prescriptions in the nation, with numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing 5.8 million prescriptions being written for opioids in Alabama in 2015. That equates to 121 prescriptions for every 100 people in the state. Opioids are effective in managing pain, but patients need to know about the risk of dependency and addiction from their use. The epidemic is everywhererural areas, the suburbs, and urban areas, affecting people in all walks of life. With the high number of deaths associated with opioids, we need to increase awareness that they can be habit forming and decrease the number of individuals who either overuse opioids, use them recreationally, or use someone else’s prescription.

Nearly half of all U.S. opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid. An opioid overdose can occur if taken with other medications such as benzodiazepines, alcohol, or sleeping aids. Many people are not aware of which medications are opioids or the risks associated with taking them. Commonly prescribed opioids include oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, tramadol, fentanyl, hydromorphone, meperidine, methadone, and morphine. Misuse of prescription opioid pain relievers is a risk factor for heroin use. Among new heroin users, approximately three out of four report having misused prescription opioids before using heroin.

To ensure patients use prescription medications appropriately, the National Institute on Drug Abuse recommends the following:

  • Follow the directions as explained on the label or by the pharmacist.
  • Be aware of potential interactions with other drugs, and inform your health care provider about all other prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, and dietary or herbal supplements you are taking.
  • Never stop or change a dosing regimen without first discussing it with your health care provider.
  • Never use another person’s prescription, and never give your prescription medications to others.
  • Store prescription stimulants, sedatives, and opioids safely and out of children’s reach.
  • Properly discard unused or expired medications.

October is Talk About Prescriptions Month, and it is a great time to ask your health care provider about the potential risk of addiction—a major public health problem. For more information, visit

Scott Harris, M.D.
Acting State Health Officer

(October 2017)

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Page last updated: October 2, 2017