Chronic pain can be debilitating for some people. Some healthcare providers recommend the use of opioid medications to help patients manage chronic pain. If your healthcare provider has prescribed an opioid medication for you, it is important that you understand the benefits and risks involved with taking these medications.
Being treated with an opioid medication may offer certain benefits. These potential benefits include:
better control of pain, which may improve how you feel and function physically; an increased ability to function in personal and professional relationships, as well as an improved sense of overall well-being; and or a decrease in the intensity of pain.
Being treated with an opioid medication increases certain risks. These potential risks include:
- Physical Dependency - if you use opioid medications for a long time;
- Addiction - being unable to control your use of the drug, is different from physical dependency, You are especially at-risk if you have had previous problems with drug or alcohol abuse.
- Ineffectiveness - A chance that this drug might not help improve your functioning or decrease your pain
- Withdrawal symptoms - including yawning, sweating, watery eyes, runny nose, anxiety, tremors, aching muscles, hot and cold flashes, “goose flesh,” abdominal cramps, and diarrhea — when you try to stop using this drug. These symptoms might begin 24 to 48 hours after your last dose and might last for up to three weeks
- Side effects - such as skin rash, constipation, sexual dysfunction, sleep abnormalities, sweating, edema, sedation, or the possibility of impaired cognitive (mental status), and/or motor ability, among others. These side effects might interfere with your ability to do what you normally do.
- Drug Overdoses - If you take a higher dose than what is prescribed to you, you might experience excessive sleepiness, trouble breathing, or even die. (more)
What Patients Taking Pain Medications Should do
If your healthcare provider has prescribed an opioid medication to treat your chronic pain, it is important that you:
- Ask your provider to make a treatment plan for you, so that pain relief and other progress can be monitored;
- Ask your provider for a Prescriber-Patient Agreement to help you and your provider share information about your medication(s);
- Ask your doctor for a co-prescription of naloxone in case of on overdose;
- Never take medications that have not been prescribed for you by your healthcare provider;
- Never take more or less of your medication than has been prescribed;
- Never mix opioid medications with alcohol;
- Never give your opioid medication to anyone else or allow anyone else to take it;
It is your responsibility to monitor your use and storage of a prescribed opioid medication. You must always:
- Tell your healthcare provider about all medications you are taking;
- Keep track of when you take your medication;
- Tell your doctor if you have misused or been addicted to drugs or alcohol in the past;
- Monitor yourself for signs of dependency;
- Keep your medicine locked in a safe place; (more)
- Safely dispose of any unused medicines.
What Concerned Friends & Family Should do
- Watch for signs of abuse or dependency;
- Help people who have a problem with pain meds find help;
- Stock naloxone if you are concerned about an overdose. In Rhode Island, Walgreens pharmacies sell this antidote without a prescription. (more)
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