Opioids: What you need to know:

Prescription opioid pain medications are a growing problem—both in Vermont and nationwide. There were nearly five times the number of overdose deaths involving prescription opioids in 2020 than in 1999. In 2020, almost 24% of all U.S. opioid overdose deaths involved a prescription opioid. More than 263,000 people have died in the U.S. from overdoses involving prescription opioids since 1999. Overdose is not the only risk related to prescription opioids. Anyone who takes prescription opioids can become addicted to them.

So, what can you do to protect yourself and others? There are four main things to remember when you have an opioid prescription.

How to reduce your risk for addiction and overdose:
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Don't drink alcohol while using opioids.
  • Even a small amount of alcohol can increase your risk of overdose
  • Opioids and alcohol are both depressants that slow your breathing, which can prevent oxygen from reaching organs like your lungs, heart, and brain 
  • Mixing with alcohol can cause the rapid release and absorption of dangerous and potentially fatal amounts of opioids into your system
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Stop using as soon as your pain is manageable.
  • Addiction can happen in as few as 5 consecutive days of use
  • Prescriptions for over 7 days are rarely needed, as opioids are not meant for long-term pain and taking more than you need builds up a tolerance in your body
  • The Centers for Disease Control advises that prescription opioids should only be taken for 3 days or less for acute pain, such as pain from surgery
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Never share your prescription opioids.
  • A dose that is safe for you does not mean it is safe for others
  • Prescription doses are based on a variety of personal factors, such as history of substance use, tolerance, and other health information
  • 53% of people who misused prescription pain relievers got them from a friend or relativ
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Store opioids in a secure place and safely get rid of unused medication.
  • Nearly 70% of prescription opioids kept in homes with children are not stored safely
  • People who misuse prescription medications often got pills from a friend's or relative's medicine cabinet
  • Keep opioids out of reach in a locked or well-hidden place

Get rid of your unused pills quickly and safely by mailing them in using a free prepaid mail-back envelope or by dropping them off a safe disposal site.

Your Opioid Questions Answered
What are opioids?

Opioids are a class of drugs, including illegal opioids (heroin) and legal prescription opioids (e.g., OxyContin®). Prescription opioids are most commonly used to manage things like chronic pain, muscle pain, and pain from surgery. Some common opioids are: 

  1. Vicodin®  
  2. Percocet®
  3. OxyContin® 
  4. oxycodone 
  5. hydrocodone 
  6. codeine 
  7. fentanyl
What's the minimum dosage I need?

Prescription opioids are very powerful and can be potentially dangerous, even when taken as directed. Always ask your doctor about the minimum dosage and duration needed for your injury to reduce your risk of addiction, side effects, accidental overdose, and re-injury.

Adult Prescription Opioids
Do opioids heal my injury?

Opioids are prescribed to manage pain, but they aren’t designed to heal your injury. Because prescription opioids can mask your pain, returning to normal activities too quickly can lead to re-injury or delay your progress.

What's my risk of addiction?

Opioids affect different people in different ways, but they are highly addictive. Withdrawal symptoms can develop in as little as a few days, and the likelihood of addiction increases after just one refill. If your doctor prescribes opioids for your pain, always ask them about your risk of dependency, number of refills needed, and other risks.

Are there other alternatives I should try first?

Always ask your doctor if other pain management approaches might be a better fit for your recovery. Studies show that in some cases alternative treatment options lead to a bigger reduction in long term-pain intensity. There are a number of pain management options other than opioids, such as:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol®)
  • Ibuprofen (Advil®)
  • Physical therapy
  • Acupuncture and massage 

Everyone is at risk for opioid addiction

Even if you’ve never had a personal or family history of substance misuse, you can still be at risk for prescription opioid addiction.

Prescription opioids can rewire brain chemistry, making anyone susceptible to addiction. Stay safe, learn how to properly use a prescription and spot the signs of addiction early.

Know the signs of opioid use disorder

The signs of opioid use disorder are easy to overlook. If you or a loved one have an opioid prescription, be on the lookout for any of these symptoms to make sure you stay safe:

  • Acting more irritable or moody than normal
  • Changes in your sleep pattern, including sleeplessness
  • Changes in your daily routine, like not working out at your regular time
  • Taking your prescription when you are not in pain, just in case
  • Isolating yourself—canceling plans with family and friends, not responding to texts and even missing work
  • Experiencing cravings and watching the clock until you can take your next pill
  • Escalating use by taking more pills than your regular dose calls for

Real People, Real Stories

It only takes a little to lose a lot. Listen to these real-life stories of opioid misuse.


If you or someone you know needs help with opioid use or heroin – treatment is available! Treatment is effective and people can recover. For free and confidential alcohol and drug support and referral services, call 802-565-LINK (5465) or visit VTHelplink.org.


Learn about opioid overdose including the signs of an overdose, what to do to save a life and the six steps you can take to prevent overdose by visiting healthvermont.gov/KnowOD.


Substance use disorder can happen to anyone. Find information about addiction, treatment, and paths to recovery at EndAddictionStigma.com.

Contact Us
Substance Use Programs (DSU)

Vermont Department of Health
280 State Street
Waterbury, VT 05671-8340

[email protected]

More Information
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Tips for parents at ParentUp
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Treatment & recovery support at VT Helplink
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Safely get rid of unused medications through Do Your Part
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Learn more about opioid prescriptions
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Learn more from CDC
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