As the news reports tell us, the United States is in the midst of an opioid epidemic. According to 2015 data, more than one out of three Americans used a prescription opioid that year, and about 1.9 million Americans reported a full-fledged opioid addiction. That number is increasing.

While opioids are often prescribed to treat certain kinds of acute and chronic pain, they can also have serious side effects. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there are a number of things to discuss with your health care provider if you are prescribed opioids such as Oxycontin, Vicodin, codeine and morphine. Ask why you need that type of medication and if there are non-opioid options. If there aren’t, ask for the lowest dosage and smallest quantity. Be sure to follow up with your health care provider on the drug’s effectiveness and how to stop or taper off use. Take the medication exactly as prescribed and never take an extra dose, even if pain persists. Understand the side effects such as excessive sleepiness or craving more medication so that you know when to call the doctor or seek treatment. If you or someone in your family has a history of substance abuse, it’s important that your provider know that.

Your health care provider should also know of all other medications you take since there is a potential for interactions. It is a good idea to keep opioids locked up in your home, and they should never be shared. If unused medications remain after treatment, it is best to dispose of them so they don’t get into the wrong hands. New reports indicate that more than two-thirds of patients who are prescribed opioids for pain end up with unused narcotics that they don’t get rid of. In Ridgefield and other area towns, the police department maintains a prescription drop box where unused medications can be disposed safely.