Questions to ask your doctor about opioid pain medications

Every year in the U.S., more than 250 million prescriptions for powerful opioid pain drugs are handed out, enough for almost every American to have his or her own bottle.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says legitimately-prescribed prescription pain medications like oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and fentanyl are helping to drive a 15-year increase in fatal opioid overdoses.

WATCH: What to ask your doctor

Georgia ranks 11th nationally in opioid overdoses.

We caught up with Dr. Debra Houry, Director of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control and an Emory/Grady emergency physician, recently to talk about the problem, and what patients can do to protect themselves.

"I think when you look in Georgia, I think it's about 1,300 that died in the past year from an opioid overdose," says Dr. Houry. "And, the numbers went up."

So, if you have chronic pain, what can you do?

Dr. Houry says start by sitting down with your doctor, and asking some questions.

"I think, first, trying to figure out, what is the best way to manage my pain?" Dr. Houry says. "You may need an opioid, if you broke your leg. You may need an opioid. You don't necessarily need it for 30 days. You might need it for a few days."

Next, she says, ask if there are other ways to manage your pain.

"Is physical therapy indicated? Are their other alternative treatments that might help.

Or, is there a different medication really targeted towards what's going on" There are some antidepressants called tricyclics that can help with neuropathic pain. So, what is driving the pain, and is there a better thing to use?"

Dr. Houry says opioids can be effective in treating short-term, acute pain, but they require a careful balance. So, ask about the potential risks and the benefits, for you.

"If you've got a history of substance abuse, or a family history of addiction, or if you've got some chronic medical conditions, you might be at higher risk for an overdose," she says. "So, then, you might not want to try that pill."

The CDC recently issued new guidelines for health care providers when it comes to prescribing opioids.

"Doctors (should) check prescription drug monitoring programs to see, "Does my patient already have a prescription for benzodiazepenes, or are they are on a high dose?"

If they are, Dr. Houry says, doctors may want to consider scaling back on prescription medication that could raise the patient's risk of an accidental overdose.

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