Opioids: Know the Risks

Article | April 2020

Opioids: Know the Risks

Find out what opioids are, why they are dangerous, and how to manage your pain without them.

The U.S. is in the midst of an opioid epidemic. It’s getting a lot of attention in the media because these drugs can so easily open the door to addiction. In fact, 1 in 5 people are at increased risk of opioid addiction with just a 10-day prescription. Here is a little more to explain the dangers of opioids and what you can do to manage pain safely. There have also been important changes to how opioid prescriptions are covered by Medicare plans.

What are some common opioids?

Common prescription opioids include:

  • Oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percocet®, Roxicodone®)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin®, Lorcet®, Norco®)
  • Morphine (MS Contin®)
  • Methadone
  • Codeine (Tylenol® with codeine)
  • Tramadol (Ultram®)

Find out if your medication is an opioid

Why should I be concerned about taking an opioid?

Opioids are highly addictive, even when taken as directed. The longer you take them, the more likely you are to become addicted.

There’s also a risk of side effects when taking opioids with certain medications. For example, combining an opioid with a benzodiazepine—like alprazolam (Xanax®), clonazepam (Klonopin®), or diazepam (Valium®)—might cause a dangerous drug interaction that could lead to an accidental overdose.

If your doctor prescribes an opioid, make sure you talk to them about the risks.

How is the opioid problem being addressed?

Because opioids carry such serious risks, Cigna Medicare and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have made important safety changes to prescription rules for Medicare customers. For example:

  • Opioid prescriptions can only be filled for up to a 1-month supply at a time.
  • Customers not used to taking opioids (i.e. haven’t filled an opioid prescription in the past 120 days) will be limited to a 7-day supply for their first fill.
  • If you take a high dosage of opioids and fill prescriptions from 2 or more doctors, your pharmacist may be required to contact your doctor(s) before filling them.
  • If you take both an opioid and a benzodiazepine, the pharmacy’s computer system will alert your pharmacist about possible interactions.

If you think these changes will affect you, talk with your doctor or pharmacist.

How can I get help if I think I have a problem with opioids?

If you are enrolled into one of our Medicare Advantage Plans1, Cigna Medicare offers a Substance Use Coaching Program at no additional cost to you. If you’re eligible for the program based on your medical history, a coach will contact you to screen and enroll you in the program. Then we’ll help you find services, resources, and support groups available in your community. We’ll also connect you with treatment options, provide referrals for in-network care, and monitor your progress. For more information about this program, call:

1 (866) 780-8546 (TTY 711)

What else should I do to manage my pain?

Taking a prescription opioid isn’t the only option for managing pain successfully. You and your doctor should work together to come up with a pain plan. It may include:

  • Understanding how your medications work and how they will impact your body
  • Discussing medication risks with your doctor
  • Learning about non-opioid options, such as:
    • Occupational and/or physical therapy
    • Acupuncture
    • Chiropractic care
    • Stress management or depression treatment
    • Over-the-counter remedies, such as ibuprofen
    • Ice and heat therapy
    • Exercise
    • Massage
  • Staying active in spite of your pain
  • Keeping a pain diary to help guide you and your doctor in managing your pain
  • Identifying a support network
  • Maintaining a healthy diet

Find out how to put a pain plan in place

Opioid addiction doesn't discriminate—it can happen to anyone, even when taken as directed.


1 Cigna Medicare Part D Prescription Plans, and Arizona Medicare Advantage Plans with Part D Prescription coverage, and Leon are not eligible for this program at this time.