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Risk of Overuse with Prescription Pain Killers
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Risk of Overuse with Prescription Pain Killers

By Windy Rhoton, RN


Every year, prescription medications kill thousands of Americans, with thousands more going to the emergency room. The most commonly abused pain killer are OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicoden. Use of these opiods has skyrocketed in years.


Why is this happening? How can we take pain medication without becoming addicted? First of all, many people have the misconception that painkillers are safer than illegal drugs. This could be due to the commonality of prescription medication or the false assumption that we will be monitored while on the medications.


Often patients are prescribed a pain killer that may be too potent rather than one that is suited to their actual need. What often is not realized is that long term use leads to dependence. Opioids are the most potent medication for chronic pain, but they cause a greater risk of dependence if prescribed for long term pain control. In addition, there are studies suggesting postoperative weight loss surgery patients may be at an increase risk for the development of substance abuse or transfer addictions. 


Furthermore, many people become susceptible to addiction because they build up a tolerance for the drug. Meaning once they build up a tolerance and may begin to take higher dosages than what is prescribed. Sometimes doctors prescribe extended release medications, which are highly addictive, out of convenience, rather than short-acting forms when short acting forms will suffice.


It is important for patients to understand that one hundred percent pain relief may not be realistic. No one wants to hurt; but sometimes pain is our body’s way of communicating with us. If we have just had a major surgery, it is normal to experience pain. The goal of pain medication is to relieve the pain enough so that we are able to move around to prevent complications such as pneumonia or blood clots and increasing blood flow to let the body heal on its own. Once we go past this threshold we are no longer treating the pain, but risking addiction.


Some of the risk factors of painkiller abuse or overdose reported by the CDC are: overlapping prescriptions and having multiple pain prescribing doctors, taking high doses of pain medications, having mental illnesses or other addictions and living in rural areas and having low income. You can avoid the risk of overuse by exploring with your health professional other ways to manage your pain. For example a massage, physical therapy, or acupuncture may be all you need to rid yourself of pain. Another important tactic to avoid addiction is to only take medication as instructed by your physician. When you are prescribed any pain medication, discuss with your doctor how much pain should be expected and plan a date for discontinuing them. Finally, prevent misuse of pain medication by keeping them secure and by not selling or sharing them with others.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015). Risk factors for Prescription Painkiller abuse and Overdose. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/riskfactors.html