Why are opioids so dangerous?

Opioids act on the nervous system to relieve pain. Continued use can cause physical dependence and addiction. Because of how opioids alter the brain, once a person is dependent, it’s almost impossible to quit using without professional help. Withdrawal symptoms can be severe, so trying to quit “cold turkey” can be dangerous.

In Kansas, like the rest of the country, opioid abuse is at an all-time high. Addiction and overdose rates are skyrocketing. Addiction is tragic enough, but the death toll is especially concerning.

Today, opioids kill more people nationwide than auto crashes, more than gun violence and more than breast cancer. Every day, more than 115 Americans die after overdosing on opioids.


For patients dealing with severe pain from injury, surgery or cancer, prescription drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and morphine are very helpful. But because of the risk of addiction, there is increased focus on alternatives, especially for chronic pain.

There are many paths to addiction. And only a small percentage of people who take opioids prescribed by their doctor become addicted. But some do.


Of special concern are heroin and fentanyl. Many people who become dependent on prescription drugs turn to heroin because, though illegal, it can be easier to get and less expensive.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is 50-100 times more potent than morphine and very fast-acting. It poses a high overdose risk, especially when mixed with alcohol and other drugs. Many overdoses result from drugs being laced with fentanyl.

How do you know you or someone you love has a problem?

If you are using prescription drugs that aren’t yours, taking more than prescribed or taking for reasons other than why they were prescribed, you have a problem. If your life is increasingly focused on finding ways to get more of a drug, you have a problem.


  • Drowsiness and poor coordination
  • Constipation
  • “Doctor shopping” or visiting many physicians with fake symptoms
  • Asking friends and family for pain medication
  • Stealing medication, money or valuables from friends and family
  • Problems with the law
  • Withdrawal symptoms that are similar to the flu: headache, nausea, vomiting, sweating, fatigue and extreme anxiety
If you’re prescribed an opioid, question it.

You should always ask questions when getting a new prescription, especially if that medication is an opioid pain reliever. So, what should you ask?

  • Why do I need this medication? Is it right for me?
  • What are the side effects? How can I reduce them?
  • How long do you expect my pain to last?
  • How long should I take this medication?
  • Are there non-opioid options I should try first?
  • What if I have a history of addiction? Or a family history?
  • Can I get a prescription for naloxone?
    Naloxone is a rescue drug for opioid overdose. If you are concerned about you or family member, it’s something you can bring up with your doctor.

Don’t judge. Don’t wait. How to intervene.

If you think you have a problem with opioids, seek professional help immediately. Treatment in a medical setting is critical. Tell your friends and family your plans, and ask for their support. If you are concerned about someone else, having the courage to act may be the difference between life and death.

Offer compassion and support.
Tell the person you think they have a problem and you’d like them to get it checked out, just like any health problem.
Help them find treatment.
Offer support and urge them to get help, even if they say they’re not ready.
If you are afraid of someone overdosing, talk to a doctor about access to naloxone, a rescue drug.
Why people avoid treatment

Make no mistake, addiction is not fun. The definition of addiction is continuing to use a drug, despite the many negative consequences in your life. But only about 10 percent of people who need treatment for opioid addiction are getting it.

Reasons for avoiding treatment vary. These may include concerns about stigma (being judged by others), cost, legal consequences and mistrust of doctors and therapists.

Treatment for opioid addiction

Research supports medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction (typically methadone, naltrexone or buprenorphine). Treatment should also include counseling and behavioral therapies, including help with depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses that may be underlying reasons for using drugs. Without medication-assisted treatment, the success rate is low. One attempt at treatment may not be enough.

  • Treatment in a medical setting is critical
  • The person may require detox services
  • Ongoing care may be necessary, including medication
  • Opioid addiction is a chronic disease; relapse is common

If cost is a concern or if you don’t have insurance, there are state-funded treatment options in Kansas.

To schedule an assessment or to find treatment providers in your area, call ValueOptions at 1-866-645-8216 and select option 2.

Safe storage and disposal

Many people who become addicted to opioids get them, with or without permission, from friends and family. It’s very important to take steps to protect the people closest to you.

Never share your prescription medication with anyone. Opioids should always be used under a doctor’s supervision.
Store all pain medications securely – not just out of sight or out of reach, but locked up. Purses, drawers and cabinets are easy targets.
Dispose of all unused medication. Note that opioids are a controlled substance. Find nearby locations below, or talk to your local pharmacy, hospital or police department.