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What You Can Do About the Opioid Epidemic

What should I do if prescribed an opioid?

Ask if there is a way to deal with the pain other than taking a narcotic. If an opioid is the only option, use as little as possible and work with your doctor on "a game plan for when you will be off the opioids," says David B. Agus, M.D., professor of medicine and engineering at the University of Southern California. Avoid activities that may be affected by potent drugs, such as making critical decisions or driving.

What are the signs that I may be addicted?

"When you can't stop yourself from taking the opioid, and your tolerance to the effects of the opioid goes up, you should pay attention," Agus says. If you fear that you may be addicted, consult with your prescribing physician, he says. Also, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers a confidential help line that can connect you with treatment services in your state. Call 800-662-HELP (800-662-4357).

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What should I do with unused opioids?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises that you seek out a take-back program so that experts can dispose of them. Call the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) at 800-882-9539 to find a collector in your area. If you must dispose of them yourself, the FDA offers these steps. First, mix the medicines with dirt, coffee grounds or cat litter; do not crush the tablets or capsules. Then place the mixture in a sealed plastic bag and put it in your household trash. Also, before discarding empty pill bottles, scratch out all personal information on the label.

How can I help an addicted friend?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) advises that you try to convince your family member or friend to get a doctor's evaluation. Go to the family physician or find a specialist through the American Society of Addiction Medicine or the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry. Be positive and encouraging. Addiction is a medical matter, not a character flaw; repeated use of opioids actually changes the brain, according to NIDA's website, "Emphasize … that it takes a lot of courage to seek help for a drug problem," the site says.

How can I report a "bad" doctor?

Complaints against doctors, including those who are "prescribing drugs in excess or without legitimate reason," are handled by state medical boards, which license physicians. Find the board for your state through the directory at the Federation of State Medical Boards' website,

How can I report illegal drug sales?

Contact your local police or submit a tip to the DEA through an online form or call a regional DEA office.

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