Headlines are dominated by the “o” word: opioid. Deaths from prescription drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone have more than quadrupled since 1999, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, the National Institute on Drug Abuse cites an average of 115 American deaths daily due to an opioid overdose.

Headlines are dominated by the “o” word: opioid. Deaths from prescription drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone have more than quadrupled since 1999, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, the National Institute on Drug Abuse cites an average of 115 American deaths daily due to an opioid overdose.

Chief Medical Officer for United Healthcare Sam Ho weighed in recently on how patients can do their part by taking a proactive stance. Ho advises asking these questions instead of just accepting a doctor’s or dentist’s prescription:

— Do I need this medicine? Are there other options that will address my pain? He suggests that a common over-the-counter pain reliever, physical therapy or chiropractic care may be an alternative to an opioid prescription.

— How long do I need to take it, and does it line up with current guidelines? The CDC, in order to get physicians to prescribe the lowest doses for the shortest amount of time, has published specific guidelines, available atcdc.gov/drugoverdose/prescribing/guideline.html.

— How does this opioid react to other medications? Make certain a doctor takes time to look at existing prescriptions and knows or learns of reaction risks.

— What side effects can I expect? Know them all.

The CDC’s warning is that opioid addiction for some can begin to take hold in the first days of use and generally increases after the fifth day of use. And, whether a doctor warns or not, avoid alcohol and other pain relief and muscle relaxer medications when taking an opioid.

Because the National Institutes of Health has stated it is working with many in the medical field to come up with non-addictive strategies to manage pain, ask doctors whether they can share information about new technologies, procedures and treatments – especially if pain is chronic.