Beware of Pain Medicines

Nurse Talking to Woman in Hospital Wheelchair

It’s no secret that in recent years, opioid addiction In the United States, has reached epidemic proportions. But did you know that people with disabilities are 2-4 times more likely to become addicted than people in the general population? One reason for the disparity is that physical disabilities are often accompanied by chronic pain that’s frequently treated with highly addictive narcotic medications. According to a 2014 study, “more than 40 percent of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients take opioid pain relievers, while the prevalence of chronic opioid use is over 20 percent and rising.”

What can you do to decrease the likelihood that you or a loved one will become addicted to opioids? Here are some preventive steps you can take.

Be aware of the dangers of opioids
A 2016 study by the National Safety Council found that “Ninety-nine percent of doctors are prescribing highly addictive opioid medicines for longer than the three-day period recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).” Though doctors may be well-intentioned, until recently, many were not well-educated about the dangers of overprescribing pain medications. When you’re prescribed a medication for pain, make sure you know as much as possible about the drug, its side effects and its potential for addiction.

 Try alternative pain therapies before resorting to narcotics.
The same NSC study found that “Seventy-four percent of doctors incorrectly believe morphine and oxycodone, both opioids, are the most effective ways to treat pain. Research shows over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen offer the most effective relief for acute pain.” Other treatments such as physical therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis and meditation may also be helpful and safe options for pain relief. Why not try these first?

Take medications as prescribed
Once you and your doctor have determined that opioids are the appropriate treatment for your or your loved one, be diligent about taking your medication as prescribed. Stick to a regular dosing schedule to prevent taking more medication than prescribed and refrain from drinking alcohol or using other substances when taking opioids. Make sure your doctor is aware of all medications you take to prevent dangerous drug interactions.

Don’t stop medications without consulting with your doctor
Stopping medications without consulting with your doctor can result in dangerous withdrawal symptoms. “Depending on the type and dose of drug you’ve been taking,” says the Mayo Clinic, “it may take weeks or even months to gradually and safely reduce your dose and get off your opioid medication.”

Get Help if Needed
According to the Mayo Clinic, it may be time to discontinue your use of pain medications if you experience “serious side effects, reduced pain relief from the same dose of medications over time (tolerance), or behaviors that raise concerns about misuse, abuse or addiction.” In the event that your doctor advises you to taper off your medication and you feel unable to do so, don’t hesitate to ask for help. “Your doctor may recommend combining your taper with counseling on medication use,” says the Mayo. “In some cases, you may also wish to join a substance misuse support group (for example, Narcotics Anonymous) or talk with your religious or spiritual adviser.”