Prescription Opioid Medicines

What You Need to Know

Your doctor may decide to prescribe a prescription pain medicine known as an opioid.9 These prescription medicines may be an appropriate treatment option for people living with chronic pain that is not adequately managed by other methods.2 43 It's important to understand that all prescription opioid medicines have the potential to be abused and misused.10 If you are prescribed a prescription opioid medicine, it is important to understand the risks and who else may be affected.

Safeguarding those around you

The person prescribed a medicine isn’t necessarily the only one at risk for abuse. More than three out of four people who misuse prescription pain medications do so by using medication prescribed to someone else.21 Recognizing environmental factors that may contribute to a greater potential for abuse could keep those around you safe. These risk factors include living in a household with adolescents, teenagers, someone with a history of substance abuse, or a high volume of visitors or staff.

What should I know about abuse and misuse?

It’s important to know the difference between prescription drug abuse and misuse to understand who may be at risk.


Abuse is a nonmedical use of a drug, repeatedly, or even sporadically, for the positive psychoactive effects it produces.11 The most common form of opioid abuse is swallowing a number of whole pills or tablets for the feeling or “high” it can cause.5 While swallowing pills is the most common form of abuse, prescription opioids can also be abused by being crushed or dissolved.5


Misuse is using the prescription drug for a reason other than for which it was prescribed.11 The key difference in abuse and misuse is that the medicine is not being used for an intentional high, so it is labeled misuse rather than abuse. Misuse can take many forms most people may not realize is misuse, for example11:

  • Using a drug for a different condition than that for which the drug is prescribed
  • Taking more drug than prescribed or at different dosing intervals


Diversion is a type of misuse that happens when people take prescription opioids that were not prescribed for them.22 Unaware of the dangers of sharing medications, people often unknowingly support diversion by sharing their unused pain medication with their family members.23

What can I do to reduce the risk of abuse?

Everyone who is prescribed an opioid medicine can play a role in reducing the risk of those medicines being abused. Understanding how to appropriately use, store, and dispose of prescription opioid medicines can help decrease the chances that they will be abused or misused.

What else is being done to reduce the risk of abuse of prescription medicines?

Because prescription drug abuse is the nation’s fastest growing drug problem, it's important for everyone involved to play a role if we are going to reduce the impact of prescription drug abuse on society.3 This means that doctors, pharmacists, government policy makers, advocacy organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and people who are prescribed opioid medications must work together.13

In order to help reduce the risk of prescription opioid medicines being abused, the pharmaceutical industry is changing the way they make, or manufacture, these medicines. Abuse deterrence technologies may make it more difficult to crush or dissolve opioid medicines and may help reduce how much someone likes the drug when they use it with the intention of getting high.5