Opiate is a term that refers to a class of potentially addictive drugs that come in the form of prescription painkillers and also illicit street drugs, like heroin.

America is facing an epidemic because of opiates and overdoses that result from abusing these drugs. Because of the epidemic,  there are a lot of questions and unfortunate misconceptions people have about these drugs and their potential effects.

One such question is if taking opiates when sick is okay. This question can be difficult to answer, and there are many different aspects to consider when addressing the question. Always consult with your primary health care provider before taking any medication.

Opiates Prescribed When You’re Sick

When considering the question of if someone should take opiates when sick, it’s important to know that opiates are meant to be taken when a person is dealing with acute pain. Codeine is the only opiate used to suppress a cough. Codeine has been long used in prescription medicines to treat not only coughs but also diarrhea.

So what if you’re prescribed something like codeine, but you’re wondering whether or not it’s okay to take opiates when sick?

It’s best in these situations to always consult your physician and also to be aware of the potential risk of addiction that comes with taking drugs like codeine. You should be an informed patient and make sure you ask questions about whether codeine is the only drug you can take, and what the risks are.

Work with your physician to make sure that if you are prescribed a medication like codeine that you’re taking it in a way to minimize the potential for abuse. This precaution is important because many opioid addictions, and even heroin addictions, begin with someone legitimately taking a prescription opiate.

Opiates and the Respiratory System

Before taking opiates when sick, it’s essential to know what their effects can be on your body. Opiates impact the respiratory system and that’s actually what leads to an overdose. People take so much of an opiate that it slows their respiratory system to the point where they stop breathing.

If you’re sick with a respiratory illness and you then take opiates in an attempt to feel better — or simply because you’re addicted to them and can’t stop taking them, even when sick — you may experience very serious, even deadly, breathing issues. If you are ill with something involving respiratory symptoms, it’s critical you contact a physician before ever taking any type of opiate.

Opiate Interactions

When you’re considering taking opiates when sick, consider the potential for interactions with other drugs. Drugs interact with one another and can create toxicity or dangerous effects. Opioids tend to interact with many other drugs and even supplements.

In this situation, if you were to take opioids for pain relief and then you were to take another medicine for allergies (antihistamines) or anxiety (benzodiazepines), the side effects could be extremely damaging.

Potential interactions are just one of many reasons why you should always talk to your doctor before taking any medicines, particularly something as serious as opiates.

When discussing whether to take opiates when sick, consider that if you regularly take opiates and suddenly stop, you may think you’re experiencing the cold or flu when instead you’re experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Opioid withdrawal symptoms can set in just hours after someone took a prior dose. So many of the symptoms of withdrawal from opioids can replicate other kinds of illnesses, and these symptoms include cramping and body aches, nausea, goosebumps, vomiting, sweating, and fevers.

If you’re someone who regularly takes opiates and you feel sick or are experiencing some of the aforementioned symptoms, contact your physician because this could mean you’re going through withdrawal. Withdrawing from opiates without medical assistance can be dangerous, uncomfortable and even deadly.

Answering the question of whether taking opiates when sick is okay is a complicated process that requires a medical professional to consider your specific situation. There are many reasons why you wouldn’t want to take opiates while sick, including the potential for fatal respiratory problems as well as dangerous drug interactions, so you should consult with a physician before taking any medications.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.