Duragesic, Lortab, Norco, OxyContin, Ultram, Opana, Demerol. These are just a few of the names you might have heard of when talking about prescription painkillers.
We all have heard plenty about the opioid epidemic and that the number of accidental overdoses goes up seemingly by the day. These powerful drugs are commonly prescribed and, unfortunately, commonly abused. Scary stuff.
However, there is certainly a role for prescription painkillers in the most severe cases of acute and chronic pain. A legal prescription for painkillers does not automatically mean that a trip to rehab is in your future.
If you are prescribed prescription painkillers, you need to ask these questions of your provider first to make sure that this treatment is going to be safe, appropriate, and effective for you.
What are the alternatives to prescription painkillers?
Have you exhausted all of your options for alternative pain treatments? You have many non-drug options to deal with pain without the side effects.
Alternative and complementary therapies such as yoga, meditation, acupuncture, physical therapy, massage therapy, exercise, and even talk therapy overall help lessen your perception of pain and better equip you to deal with the source of pain. These can be used alone or in conjunction with drug therapies.
Remember, the mind is an extremely powerful force. Your perception can be altered by the methods listed above as well as the use of strategies like mindfulness meditation.
Then, your perception becomes your reality.
I bet you’ve never experienced the power your mind really has.
Did you know that mental pain and anguish such as through grief, trauma, and depression often manifest through physical pain?
In fact, research has identified a strong connection between chronic pain and mental disorders such as anxiety and mood disorders. So, tackling that possibility with a therapist or psychologist is often a great idea to look into.
Am I at risk for addiction?
Just because you take a prescription painkiller does not automatically mean you are going to become addicted. While we cannot predict who will become addicted, there are a few known risk factors.
Having a family history of a substance use disorder may give you a genetic predisposition to develop a substance use disorder.
The risk also increases If you have a personal history of mental illness such as personality disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is thought that people who suffer from these conditions may use drugs to “self-medicate” bothersome symptoms.
Environmental triggers such as severe stress, trauma, or exposure to drugs of abuse at a young age are common factors that can lead to addiction.
Interestingly, a number of factors make women more at risk for addiction than men. First, women have been found to have more nerve receptors, which make them feel pain more intensely than men. There are also biological factors that make women more susceptible to the effects of painkillers such as body size and the effects of sex hormones.
According to the National Institutes of Health, women are more likely to abuse prescription drugs for things like weight control, fight exhaustion, cope with pain, and self-treat mental problems.
Ladies, the odds are stacked against us.
Do you specialize in pain management?
Okay, maybe that sounds a little bit harsh. Not trying to offend anyone.
Are you receiving your prescription painkillers from your general practitioner? Or a provider who specializes in long-term pain management?
Pain management specialists are experienced in treating chronic pain and will be able to help you find the most appropriate treatment. Also, they will keep a close eye on you to ensure that things go smoothly.
If you are starting out with your general practitioner, you might ask how comfortable they are with prescribing and monitoring long-term painkiller prescriptions. He or she might end up giving you a referral to pain management specialist.
What are the side effects?
It shouldn’t be surprising that prescription painkillers come with their own unique set of side effects.
People who chronically take painkillers might still not feel great due to the effects of sedation and depression.
Other common side effects include dizziness, nausea, and constipation. These effects may not even go away over time as you start to build up a tolerance to the painkiller (this is especially true of constipation). This can be pretty annoying if you have to take another drug just to fix a side effect of another.
How much pain is normal?
Sorry to tell you this but, just because you take a prescription painkiller doesn’t mean that all of your pain is going to magically disappear.
Some pain is not always a bad thing as we are conditioned to think. Pain is typically a signal that our bodies are trying to tell us something.
If you are taking prescription painkillers and you continue to have severe pain, that does not mean you should just take more of your medication. You need to get in contact with your provider to see what kind of tweaks need to be made.
How will you monitor my treatment?
Nowadays, providers are under a lot of pressure and scrutiny to make sure their prescribing habits are appropriate and to avoid bad outcomes as much as possible.
Recently, many new measures have been put in place like governmental prescription monitoring programs and abuse-deterrent formulations.
Also, don’t be surprised if your provider has you sign a written agreement not to misuse your medication. He or she will also likely perform periodic urine drug testing and bring you back for frequent office follow-ups. These measures are all meant to keep you safe.
How does treatment end?
A conversation about the expected length of treatment should be had with your provider. Will this be a long-term deal?
If the plan for meds is short-term, then it is important to map out the when and the how of the next steps after treatment ends. What’s next on your journey to pain relief? Open, honest communication between provider and patient is always a good thing.
You need to know that if you do take prescription painkillers for a long period of time, you can’t just stop them whenever you want or when you run out of your prescription as your body has likely become physically dependent on the medication.
If you do stop painkillers cold turkey, you may experience withdrawal symptoms which basically feel like a really bad case of the flu. Nobody wants that.
If you need to come off of painkillers, you will need to make a plan with your provider to taper off the medication safely.
What else can I do to help with my recovery?
Relief from chronic pain is not just about taking pills.
You are not at the mercy of someone else for your recovery from chronic pain. You are an active participant.
Find out what else you can do to step up your recovery. Would physical therapy help? Would it be a good idea to see any other specialists? How about dietary changes or supplements? Over the counter remedies? What about seeing a therapist?
You don’t need to lie down and take the pain. You have the power in your hands.
Stay safe, friends
In the most severe cases of pain, there are times when prescription painkillers are appropriate. However, make no mistake that these medications and powerful and potentially dangerous.
Make sure that you are asking these questions and whatever else makes you feel comfortable before accepting that prescription. Remember, an informed patient is a happy patient.
Meet the Author
Shannon is a nurse practitioner with an array of clinical experience. She is particularly passionate about health promotion and disease prevention. When she's not nurse practitioner-ing or writing, she enjoys reading, cooking, and yoga. You can check out her blog at https://shannonthenp.com.