The Opioid Epidemic campaign ran from September 2018 to January 2019. This campaign’s pages are no longer actively maintained.

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Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Provider

When managing severe or persistent pain, often care needs to be directed by a doctor or qualified healthcare provider to prevent further injury, addiction, and other health complications. During your initial and follow up visits, it is important to ask questions, to consider all treatment options, and to know how to overcome barriers that may prevent successful treatment.

When admitted to the hospital or seeing an outpatient healthcare provider for pain, it is possible that an opioid may be prescribed. One way that dispensed prescriptions are regulated is through the Virginia Prescription Monitoring Program, which collects information on what medications have been prescribed to patients and assists in deterring illegitimate use of prescription drugs. While healthcare providers have access to a list of current prescriptions, it is essential that patients take an active role in communicating changes, concerns, and current intake habits.

One way patients can help stem the opioid epidemic is to ask questions when going to the hospital or the doctor’s office. The following questions can help to facilitate a conversation with your healthcare provider:

  • How long should I take this medication? When and how much?
  • What side effects can I expect? Should I take it on an empty stomach or with food? How might it interact with my other prescriptions and OTC medications? What precautions should I be aware of?
  • How should I store it? What should I do with unused medication? How do I dispose of remaining pills?
  • Do I need this medication? What is it for? Am I being treated with a plan for acute or chronic pain management?
  • What alternative therapies and treatments are available for my pain management?
  • If I wish to discontinue taking my prescription, what should I do? How do I avoid adverse side effects such as withdrawal?
  • Should I be taking this medication if there is a history of addiction in my family or if I have a history of addiction?

These questions can also be asked on the behalf of a family member or dependent, such as a child or elderly parent.

Alternative Pain Therapies

Alternative therapies may also be referred to as complementary or integrative if the therapy is used along with prescriptions and other medical treatments. Consult with your healthcare provider before starting any of these therapies as many have risks and certain ones may not effectively treat the type of pain that you may be experiencing.

  • Non-opioid analgesics*: NSAIDs, acetaminophen, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, topical analgesics
  • Heat and cold therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic or osteopathic therapy
  • Occupational/physical therapy
  • Massage
  • Nutrition counseling and dietary changes
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Biofeedback
  • Yoga, Tai Chi, and/or meditation
  • Aromatherapy
  • Music therapy
  • Hypnosis

Do you live in a rural area or otherwise have limited access to healthcare? Certain activities can be done at home, such as heat and cold therapy, aromatherapy, dietary changes, yoga, Tai Chi, and meditation.

Many UVA outpatient clinics offer alternative therapies for pain. Ask your doctor or healthcare provider for more information or call the UVA Operator at 434-924-0000 to be directed to a clinic that offers these services.

*When taking any medication, read the label(s) for directions and warnings. Speak with your pharmacist about possible drug interactions.

Medication Storage

How and where you store your prescriptions and OTC medications is important for the wellbeing of your household. Improper storage and use can have deadly consequences for adults, children, and pets.

Never tell children that medication is candy. It is advised that parents have truthful conversations with their children about opioids and the associated health risks. Often this conversation can be started by asking what they have heard about opioids. Frequently teenagers who have misused a prescription drug have gotten the drug from friends or family members. The medicine cabinet at home can offer easy access, so it is essential to lock up and hide prescriptions from view.

Free lock boxes can be obtained from Region 10, courtesy of Lock and Talk.

Ensuring Household Safety

  • Remind visitors of safe medication storage so that medication is not left in the reach of children and pets. Make sure visitors lock and/or put away suitcases and purses.
  • Lock and secure prescriptions and all other medications in a locked cabinet or container.
  • Choose a place that is out of sight and out of reach for storing all of your family’s medications. Use lock and key, if possible.
  • Always lock a child safety cap after every use. Never leave medication out in the open or within reach of a child.
  • Always return the medication to its proper storage location.
  • Supervise children and teenagers when they have received an opioid prescription. Keep prescriptions out of reach when not in use and count pills.

Minimize Prescription Mix-ups

There is concern for elderly and/or impaired patients when they have multiple prescriptions to take and have a reduced capacity to see, read and/or to think clearly. Below are suggestions for minimizing mistakes:

  • Use a pill organizer/box and other methods to keep track of when certain medications need to be taken.
  • Ask the prescribing healthcare provider or the pharmacist for information on precautions and possible drug interactions.
  • Remove all expired, unwanted, or unused medications from their storage area within the home and take them to a disposal location.
  • Color code bottles with colored tape or markers. Or use markers to notate details such as morning, afternoon, and evening.
  • Ask the pharmacy if they offer large print, easy-open caps, and/or labels in other languages.

If your medication has been stolen, contact the police immediately to file a report.

Prescription Disposal

Medication receptacle at UVA Outpatient Pharmacy
The medication receptacle at UVA Outpatient Pharmacy is tamper-resistant and can be accessed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

It is vital that care be taken when disposing of prescriptions and OTC medications. Improper disposal can result in accidental exposures, theft and abuse, as well as harm to the environment. If you are unsure of local depositories, please contact the nearest hospital or your pharmacist.

Avoid throwing medications in the trash or flushing them in the toilet.

One of the safest ways to dispose of opioids or other unused medications in the Charlottesville area is to use the medication receptacle at UVA Outpatient Pharmacy. Please contact UVA Outpatient Pharmacy if you have any questions about medication disposal.

Disposal Locations

UVA Outpatient Pharmacy (Open 24/7)

1240 Lee Street, Charlottesville, VA 22903

Public Disposal Locations

Mail Back Programs

Another option for disposal is mail-back programs. Ask your local pharmacy if they offer a mail-back program.

National Prescription Take-Back Events

Many communities host an annual Take-Back Day. Common collection sites for unused medications are police stations, pharmacies, and hospitals.

Home Disposal

Thomas Jefferson Health District offers free drug disposal kits.

As a last resort: if disposal through a take-back program, a DEA-authorized collector, or a drug disposal kit is not available and there are no specific disposal instructions on the label, follow the instructions for OTC medication disposal. Per the Attorney General of Virginia, do not flush medications in the toilet as it can contaminate the ground and waterways as well as harm fish and wildlife.

To dispose of medications at home:

  1. Mix medication with an inedible substance such as dirt, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds. Do not crush tablets or capsules.
  2. Place the mixture in a sealable container such as a zip-top plastic bag
  3. Throw the container away in your household trash