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For Pain Patients

Pharmacist with client

Are prescription pain medicines safe and effective for me?

Prescription pain medicines can help reduce how much pain you feel and are safe when used as directed. However, they're very strong medicines and if used incorrectly, can cause serious injury or death.

Prescription pain medicines are likely working for you if they're both relieving pain and improving the quality of your life. This means that you're better able to do things that are important to you such as work or be involved in activities with friends and family. Prescription pain medicines may not be working well for you if your ability to participate in important activities isn't improved, you find yourself worrying that you might be addicted or if you feel groggy or find it hard to think clearly. There are other medical and non-medical alternatives that can work well with or instead of prescription pain medicines.

Important things to remember

  • Never take prescription pain medicine that isn't prescribed to you.
  • Follow the directions of your doctor and don't take more than prescribed.
  • Tell each doctor about all of your medical conditions and all prescription and non-prescription medicines you're taking if you're seeing more than one provider.
  • Never change your dose of prescription pain medicine without checking with your doctor first.
  • Never mix with alcohol.
  • Taking prescription pain medicine with other depressants like sleep aids or anti-anxiety medicines can be dangerous.
  • Always keep your medicines locked in a safe place.
  • Always dispose of any unused or expired medicines. See the Take Back Your Meds website for drug disposal information.  

Possible risks from taking prescription pain medicine

  1. Impaired ability to think
  2. Problems breathing
  3. Drug abuse/addiction

1. Impaired ability to think

Prescription pain medicine can lead to excessive sleepiness or a decreased ability to think clearly. Some sleepiness can occur when you first start or increase your dose of prescription pain medicine and can lead to problems driving, but this problem tends to wear off in a few days. If you continue experiencing these symptoms you should tell your doctor. These symptoms are a sign that your current prescription isn't working for you and may be dangerous.

2. Problems breathing can lead to an accidental overdose or death

Prescription pain medicines can slow your breathing. Drinking alcohol or taking certain other medicines may make it even worse.

Warning signs of an overdose:

  • Extremely slow breathing or heavy snoring
  • Confusion or difficulty being awakened
  • Blue lips or skin
  • Very small pupils
  • Call 9-1-1 immediately if you witness these signs in someone taking prescription pain medicine.

    3. Warning signs of Drug abuse/Addiction

    If you find that:

    • You're constantly thinking about prescription pain medicines
    • That your use of prescription pain medicines is interfering with your work or social life
    • You're worried about being addicted

    What should I do if I think I am addicted?

    Talk with your medical provider. It may be that your use is getting out of control. You may come up with a plan with your provider to adequately control your pain without endangering your health. You may also call the Washington Recovery Help Line at 1-866-789-1511.

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