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6 Things to Discuss with Your Doctor Before Taking an Opioid

doctor writing prescription holding pill bottle

You’re in pain. Your doctor thinks that a prescription of an opioid can help you find relief, but you’re wary. You’ve heard the news reports about the opioid crisis and the addiction that has affected 1.7 million Americans. Your concern is understandable.

Part of the strategy to prevent opioid use disorder—which is defined as a problematic pattern of opioid use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress—is being an informed patient.

“Opioids are good for the treatment of acute pain, such as injury or post-surgery, but not chronic pain—like for low back pain that someone has had for years,” says Kathleen Brady, MD, PhD, Vice President of Research at the Medical University of South Carolina, and a Genomind Advisory Board member. But, as with any medication, they come with some risks.

If you’re prescribed an opioid medication, discuss the following with your doctor:

1. Go over your personal health history and risks.

There are a few reasons why you should do this. “In general, conditions that impair liver functions—such as alcohol dependence and hepatitis, might be expected to interfere with opioid metabolism, so lower doses are likely to be needed,” Dr. Brady says.

“Conditions that lead to the induction of liver enzymes, such as cigarette smoking or heavy caffeine consumption, might cause more rapid metabolism of opioids, so higher doses might be needed to achieve therapeutic effect,” she continues.

In addition, “many opioids have a low therapeutic index—what this means is the dose that can cause death through respiratory depression … are only four to five times higher than the dose to relieve pain,” Dr. Brady says. “This is especially a problem for people who have compromised respiratory function, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or when used in combination with other drugs that suppress respiration, like the benzodiazepines or barbiturates.”

This is why it is best to be upfront with your doctor about all medications and dietary supplements you are taking, including alcohol use. They can then determine how your body will process an opioid and the effect that it will have on your body.

Another possible risk could be a gene-drug interaction. The FDA requires labeling on over 200 medications to include pharmacogenetic biomarker information, due to specific actionable gene-drug associations.

Genetic testing, like Genomind Pharmacogenetic Testing, can inform your doctor if such an interaction could be likely by identifying the pharmacokinetic genes that determine the effect that the body has on a drug via metabolism and, as a result, inform dosing decisions. Such tests can also provide information on pharmacodynamic genes, which play a role in determining a drug’s effect on the body, and can help inform drug selection. Want Genomind PGx for your treatment? Get started today.

Genetic testing can help your health care provider determine how you metabolize certain drugs and decide on the treatment that may be right for you. Learn more about What Determines Opioid Addiction.

2. Ask whether a different type of medication, such as an over-the-counter pain reliever, can alleviate your pain.

For some pain, acetaminophen and ibuprofen may work just as well. For localized pain, lidocaine patches can be an effective alternative. When looking for a treatment to handle your pain, consider talking to your doctor about genetic testing to help pinpoint the right dosage, and possibly medication, for you.

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