Minimizing the Risks

Every 19 minutes someone in the United States dies from a prescription drug overdose. Here’s how you can avoid becoming at risk.

Know the Signs & Symptoms of Abuse

Prescription drug abuse is the use of a medication without a prescription, in a way other than prescribed, or for the experience or feeling it gives you. Abuse can lead to addiction. There are signs and symptoms of abuse that can help you determine whether prescription drug abuse is occurring.

Look for these Red Flags:
  • Taking more than prescribed
  • “Craving” just one more pill/ refill
  • Running out of prescriptions too soon
  • Continuously “losing” prescriptions and requesting replacements
  • Mixing pills and alcohol
  • Seeking prescriptions for more than one injury or with multiple doctors
  • Abnormal behaviors, hostility, withdrawal, or sudden personality changes
  • Sleep pattern changes
  • Poor decision making
  • Secrecy or defiance
  • Stealing, forging, or selling prescriptions

To learn more about these Red Flags, visit the Signs & Symptoms page.

If you recognize these Red Flags in yourself or a loved one, it may be time to Get Help NOW.

Talk to Your Doctor

Treating pain requires you to be an advocate in your own treatment plan. It’s important to understand what your pain is and how it is being treated. Talking with your doctor is the most effective way to make sure your pain is being treated in a safe way.

Whether you have acute or chronic pain, it is important to talk to your doctor about:

  • Alternative pain treatment options
  • Potential addictive qualities of the drugs that are prescribed
  • Directions for taking the prescriptions drugs (how many, how often)
Set Goals
  • Talk to your doctor about what you want to achieve through pain treatment—do you want to be able to go to work? Play with your kids? Take walks around the neighborhood? Understand that prescription drugs are not designed to eradicate pain. Talking to your doctor can help you determine what level of comfort you need to reach the level of function you want.
  • Talk to your doctor about how long you will be taking prescription drugs. This may be determined by the kind of pain you are tackling—acute or chronic. It’s important for you to have a timeline and an understanding of how long you might be on a medication.
  • Ask your doctor about signing a Treatment Agreement so you can hold yourself accountable. See a Sample Agreement. Your doctor should assess you at regular visits. If pain and function do not improve at least 30% after starting the drugs, then they are probably not working well enough to justify the risk. Your doctor should also do regular urine drug screens and random pill counts to make sure you are taking the medications as prescribed. This if for your own protection.
Ask Questions
  • How long will I be taking this medication? How often and how much?
  • What is this medication supposed to do? (If you don’t understand the answer, ask more questions until you do understand what that medication does in the body.)
  • What are some of the potential side effects of this medication?
  • What should do if I have a negative experience with this medication? What are some of the alternatives if this medication isn’t a good fit for me?

To find out more about how you can be your own health advocate, go to ConsumerReports.org.

Turnover Expired or Unused Meds—Find a Take Back Location

Keeping opioids around is like keeping a loaded gun in your medicine cabinet. 1 in 4 teens have reported using a prescription drug that wasn't prescribed to them - i.e., they got them from their own medicine cabinet or a "friend".

  • Take your medication to a permanent Take Back location. A complete list is available on our Medical Disposal page.
  • Disposing of these drugs improperly (such as flushing down the toilet) is dangerous for the environment so take your medication to a proper drug disposal drop site.
  • If no medicine take-back programs or DEA-authorized collectors are available in your area, and there are no specific disposal instructions on the label, such as flushing as described below, you can also follow these simple steps to dispose of most medicines in the household trash: