Patient and Public Frequently Asked Questions

What are opioid medications?

Opioids are a class of drugs used to reduce pain. Healthcare providers may prescribe opioid medications to relieve moderate to severe pain. Codeine, fentanyl, oxycodone, methadone, hydrocodone, and morphine are among these controlled substances.

Opioid information

Washington State Department of Health:

Federal Government:

What is considered chronic pain?

Chronic pain lasts 12 or more weeks. Here's more information about chronic pain (PDF).

What is considered acute pain?

Acute pain lasts up to six weeks. Here's more information about acute pain (PDF).

What is considered sub-acute pain?

Sub-acute pain lasts six to 12 weeks. Here's more information about sub-acute pain.

I was told that my healthcare provider is no longer able to prescribe opioids. Is that true?

No, the new requirements outline only what is necessary for healthcare providers to follow when prescribing opioids. If you have questions about your specific healthcare needs, please contact your healthcare provider(s).

Do the rules limit the amount of opioid medication I can receive?

The new rules set prescribing limits for certain types of pain care. However, the new rules also allow healthcare providers to exceed those limits for documented clinical reasons.

Do the new prescribing rules have mandated tapering in them?

No. A new rule outlines circumstances when tapering should be considered. Please talk to your healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns about tapering.

If I am a high-dose chronic pain patient and establish a relationship with a new practitioner, will I be required to be tapered from my current dose of opioids?

Not necessarily. If you are on a stable and non-escalating dose of opioids, have demonstrated compliance in written agreements for treatment plans, and have documented functional stability, pain control, or documented improvements, then your new practitioner may have a 90-day exemption from mandatory tapering requirements to allow for evaluation of appropriate treatment. Your long-term medical practitioner may alter your opioid prescriptions based upon evaluation and case-by-case patient needs.

If I think I haven't received appropriate care, who can I contact?

You may submit a complaint to the Department of Health. Information on the complaint process and other frequently asked questions can be found on our website. You may also call the Department of Health at 360-236-4700, or email us for more information.

What is a risk assessment?

It's a tool that helps a medical provider identify the potential for substance abuse or misuse.

Under the new rules, will I have to change to a new healthcare provider in order to be prescribed opioid medications?

No. The law and rules don't require that you change your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider doesn't have to stop seeing you. Under certain circumstances your healthcare provider may seek consultation from a pain specialist.

May my providers stop seeing me if I'm in their care for pain because they don't want to prescribe opioids?

It isn't appropriate for any provider to discontinue seeing a patient without proper notice that the patient is being dismissed. That said, a practitioner may choose to stop seeing a patient.

I am a chronic pain patient. What are the requirements for my provider to continue prescribing me opioid medications?

It depends on your healthcare provider, and the status of your care and needs. Talk to your healthcare provider.

  • The provider may need some continuing education on opioid prescribing.
  • The provider may need to consult with a pain specialist, or may refer you to a pain specialist for a consultation.
  • If your care and pain are stable, and you're on the same dosage of medication, your healthcare provider might only have to document this status in your patient record.
If I am a chronic pain patient, will I be referred to a pain specialist?

Not necessarily. It depends on your healthcare provider, your medical history, and the plan for your care.

  • You may be referred to see a pain specialist, or
  • Your healthcare provider may consult with a pain specialist.
  • The rules allow for consultation exemptions under certain circumstances.
Do I have to change my pain medicine?

The law and rules don't change your pain medicine or prohibit your healthcare provider from prescribing it. That is a decision between you and your healthcare provider.

Do I need to keep my opioid prescription medications stored securely?

Yes. Talk to your healthcare provider about how to keep you and your family safe. See more information about the storage of opioid prescriptions below

What do I do with my unused opioid medications?

To dispose of unwanted medication, ask your pharmacy for a drop-off location near you. If you can't drop off unused medication, put household waste or garbage in the bottle and throw it away in its original childproof and watertight bottle. Do not flush it down the toilet.

You can also visit to find out about the State's new Drug Takeback Program under development which will also have resources concerning unused medications.

What if I'm taking other medications?

Tell your healthcare provider and pharmacist about all other medication you're taking. It may be extremely risky to combine pain medications with other prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Certain drugs can strengthen the effects of opioids when taken in combination with them. If you have more than one provider, make sure they all know about all of the medications you're taking. This includes any vitamin supplements.

What is Naloxone?

It's a narcotic blocker used to treat narcotic drug overdose. It temporarily reverses the effects of opioid medicines and is often used as a rescue drug in cases of opioid overdose. Please consult your health care provider with questions about naloxone.

Whom do I contact if I have questions?

Please see our contact us webpage for contact information.