Using Opioids Safely

Nearly one in three Americans knows someone who has developed an opioid dependence.¹ Learn more about the risks and how your Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan plan can help.

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Opioid dependence can happen to anyone

Opioid medications affect your brain. They both relieve pain and give you a sense of pleasure,²

making it difficult to stop taking them. 

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Common opioid medications

  • Acetaminophen with codeine (Tylenol® with codeine)
  • Hydrocodone/Acetaminophen (Vicodin®, Hycodan®)
  • Tramadol HCL (Ultram®, Ultram® ER, ConZip®
  • Oxycodone HCL/Acetaminophen (Percocet®
  • Oxycodone HCL (OxyContin®, Roxicodone®
  • Morphine sulfate (Avinza®, Kadian®
  • Hydromorphone HCL (Dilaudid®, Exalgo®
  • Buprenorphine (Subutex®, Belbuca®, Butrans®)
  • Fentanyl (Duragesic®, Subsys®, Abstral®

Understanding the opioid epidemic

Doctors prescribe opioids when patients are in severe pain. Over the past several years, U.S. prescriptions have increased. This has led to an opioid epidemic.

Dependence can happen quickly

Dependence is a natural, physical response to opioid medications. For that reason, they are safest to use for three days or less. Your body can begin to become dependent on them in as little as five days.

Questions to ask your doctor

Even if you’ve already started taking your medication, there are questions you can ask your doctor. Ask what type of medication it is. If it’s an opioid, ask if it’s really needed to manage your pain. Other questions might be:

  • Are there alternatives to this medication? 

  • Is my prescription potentially habit forming? 

  • Do I have to finish it if I really don’t need it? 

  • How do I dispose of the unused portion?

A patient talks to a doctor.

The risk factors for opioid use disorder

Any of these factors can put you at greater risk:

  • Ongoing severe pain or a chronic condition

  • A long history of substance or medication use

  • Living or working in high-conflict environments

  • A past diagnosis of behavioral health conditions

A doctor places their hands on another person's hand.

The warning signs of opioid use disorder

When you or someone you know has been prescribed opioids, keep an eye out for these changes in behavior: 

  • Is acting distant or less reliable
  • Has glassy eyes or seems out of it
  • Is defensive about needing medication
  • Is acting secretive or out of character
  • Is focused on getting more opioids

Accidental opioid overdose

Naloxone is a life-saving medication used to reverse the effects of opioid overdose. Commonly known by the brand names, Narcan® and  Evzio®, Naloxone is not addictive and is available in many states without a prescription.

Opioid disposal

If you don’t need all your prescribed medication, you should safely dispose of it.

  • Avoid crushing pills. Do not flush them into the public water system. 
  • Throw out the opioids in a bag mixed with coffee grounds or cat litter. 
  • Scratch out personal information and throw away or recycle the pill bottle. 
  • Find a year-round approved collection site or take back event near you.
  • Return the unused portion of the opioid medication to your pharmacy. 

Find a take back site or event

Help for opioid use disorder

If you’re concerned that you or a loved one may be dependent on opioids, please reach out. We can help you find a behavioral health specialist or treatment center. You can see which plan you have on your Blue Cross ID card.  

Please visit our behavioral health site for more information on services available to you. 


To include a non-opioid directive in your medical records, please visit and select Find Help. Then go to Additional Resources to find the MDHHS-5793 Nonopioid Directive form. Once completed, you can give a copy to your primary care physician.

Recommended reading

Opioids and alcohol
Opioids and alcohol

Prevent an accidental overdose. Understand the dangers of mixing opioids and alcohol.

Learn the dangers
Deciding what to do with old prescriptions
How to safely clean out your medicine cabinet

Getting rid of your old prescriptions is easy. Find out the best ways to go through your medicine cabinet.

Find out how
Avoiding drug interactions
Avoiding drug interactions

Understand the risks of mixing opioids and benzodiazepines.

Know the risks

1. Nearly one in three people know someone addicted to opioids 
2. How opioid addiction occurs  

New Directions is an independent company that provides behavioral health services for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. 

The information contained on this webpage is for educational purposes only. Nothing on this webpage is intended to be, nor should be used as or relied upon as, professional medical advice. Nothing contained on this webpage is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. For medical advice, or to receive medical diagnosis or treatment, consult with your health care provider.