Are you a survivor with an opioid prescription?
If you are a brain injury survivor and have been prescribed opioid medication for pain, it is important that you understand the risks associated with its use.
Risk of dependence:
Opioid dependency means that your body starts to rely on the medication to simply feel normal. This can happen even at low doses and over a short amount of time. Once a dependency is formed, stopping the medication can cause you to feel increased pain and symptoms of withdrawal.
Risk of increasing tolerance:
Over time, a person with an opioid dependency may find that they need more and more of the drug to treat their pain or avoid withdrawal. This is very dangerous, as larger amounts of the drug increases risk of overdose.
If a person builds up a high tolerance and then does not take the drug for a while, their tolerance may decrease without them realizing it. So if they return to the drug at the same dosage as before, it may now be far too much and cause an overdose.
Risk of turning to illicit drugs:
If a person is prescribed an opioid and develops a dependence, and then loses access to their prescription, they may turn to other methods of treating their pain or withdrawal symptoms. They may ask friends or family to provide them with medications not prescribed to them. They may even start stealing others’ medications.
If prescription medications can’t be obtained, or become cost prohibitive, a person may turn to “street drugs” such as heroin and illegally pressed pills. This is especially dangerous, as there is no way to know exactly what you are taking. Many street drugs are laced with Fentanyl, which is 80-100 times stronger than morphine. Since there is no quality assurance, it’s very possible to encounter a poorly mixed batch that could end your life.
Risk of overdose:
Opioid overdose slows or stops breathing, which reduces or cuts off oxygen to the brain. At least two people die from opioid overdose every day in Arizona. Luckily, a drug called Naloxone is available, which can reverse opioid overdose.
But death is not the only danger. The lack of oxygen to the brain can cause hypoxic or anoxic brain injury, even if the overdose is reversed with Naloxone. The longer your brain goes without oxygen, or with very little oxygen, the more likely brain injury is to occur. Multiple overdoses put you at increased risk for lasting damage to the brain, even if your life is saved every time.
Brain Injury Survivors:
If you have experienced a brain injury, it’s likely you were prescribed an opioid pain medication. Please note that because of your brain injury, you are more likely to develop a dependency or addiction, and that it may be more difficult to recover from an addiction when you have a brain injury. Please inform your doctors and support network of your brain injury, and that you may need special accommodations in order to find success in a recovery program.
What to do:
If you have been prescribed an opioid pain medication, there are steps you can take to avoid forming a dependency or overdosing.
Opioid medications should be used short-term to “take the edge off” chronic pain. They should not be used daily or over an extended period of time.
If you need more and more of the drug to get the desired effect, this means your tolerance has increased. You and your healthcare team should reassess your pain treatment plan. Ask about alternative pain management options – there are many to choose from.
If you feel you have developed a dependence to opioids, quitting and entering treatment now greatly decreases your chances of death, and of sustaining a harmful brain injury. There are medications available that can help with cravings and withdrawal symptoms. If quitting isn’t possible yet, reduce your use and practice harm reduction techniques to lower your chances of overdose until you are able to quit.
Even if you are using opioid medication exactly as prescribed, it is still possible to overdose. You do not need to be addicted or using street drugs to have an accidental overdose. It is always wise to get Naloxone and make sure those around you know what to look for and how to use it.
Another recommended safety precaution is to keep opioid medications locked up. This way, dangerous medications cannot be taken by children or others it has not been prescribed to. Brain Injury survivors may also find it helpful to have someone else manage their medications, so that they don’t forget to take it, or accidentally take too much. The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona has medication lock boxes and Narcan kits available at no cost – while supplies last. Contact us to place a request.
Additional Support for Addiction
- Employment Training & Volunteer Opportunities at Re:Start! ReSale Shop
- Interpersonal Violence Navigator for Those Recovering from Violent Encounters
- Peer Support for Veterans & Military Family
- Referrals for Opioid-Alternative Pain Management
- Statewide Outreach & Training for Addiction Centers
- Statewide Brain Injury Survivor Support Groups
- Virtual Support Group for Families Dealing with Addiction and Brain Injury
- Training on Addiction & Cognitive Impairment for Professionals, Family Members, & Survivors, with CEUs Available
- Transportation Passes in Tucson & Phoenix
- Virtual Educational Opportunities
Free Harm Reduction Tools
The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona provides free Narcan, lock boxes and gun locks to encourage safety and prevent brain injury. Check the items you are interested in.
Counseling Request Form
The Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona (BIAAZ) has the opportunity to provide ten free sessions with a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) to survivors of brain injury and their family members who are at-risk or struggling with substance misuse.
Using substances other than as-prescribed by a healthcare provider can increase the risk of sustaining a brain injury due to falls, vehicle accidents, assaults, or family violence, as well as lead to homelessness and involvement in the justice system. Opioid use in particular can result in hypoxic or anoxic brain injuries (little or not oxygen to the brain) in the event of an overdose.
Survivors of brain injury are often prescribed opioid medications for pain management, and may be more likely to become dependent or addicted to them. They may also have a more difficult path to recovery from both the addiction and the brain injury.
We invite you to speak with us about your concerns and goals so you can make informed decisions regarding your health and safety. To request substance misuse and addiction counseling services, please fill out electronic form below.
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Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona
5025 E. Washington St, Ste 108
Phoenix, Arizona 85034
1 (888) 500-9165
Fax (602) 508-8285
BIAAZ is a chartered affiliate of the
United States Brain Injury Alliance.