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To manage pain safely, you must first understand pain—where it comes from and why it sticks around—and then evaluate effective options for treating pain against your situation.

The truth is that in the United States healthcare system, chronic pain is usually managed by a combination of treatments and pain pill prescriptions that become less effective and more risky over time.

A great many people are on opioids in the first place because the pain medications were prescribed by a trusted doctor. The immediate, short-term effects of pain pills are undeniable and easily within reach in our current system of modern medicine.

But opioids are not a long-term solution, and they are not a cure for chronic pain. If you or a loved one you care for is taking opioids to help manage chronic pain, follow these medically accepted guidelines to make sure you’re managing pain safely.

Prescription guidelines for safe opioid use

Doctor PrescribingDosage and specific prescription guidelines—when and how to take pain pills—differs from person to person, region to region, and even doctor to doctor. To make things even more complicated, acceptable dosages vary between types of opioids.

While certain areas in the country have unified opioids prescribing guidelines to reduce risk and discourage seeking (addictive) behavior in hospitals, a single, unified national guideline for opioid prescriptions does not exist.

However, if you heed these five warning signs, you’ll know more and be safer than the average pain patient.

You may be in danger if:

  • You are taking more than 90 MED (Morphine Equivalent Dosage) per day of a pain reliever prescription.
  • You are taking methadone, which is more dangerous than other pain relievers.
  • You are taking opioids for more than 90 days.
  • You are taking opioids and tranquilizers, alcohol, marijuana, or sleep aids.
  • You have been prescribed opioids from multiple providers or utilized multiple pharmacies

If you aren’t sure whether or not you meet this criteria, be sure to ask your doctor as soon as possible.

Opioid effectiveness goes down
while tolerance goes up

Studies show that the effectiveness of opioids diminishes over time. Patients become more sensitive to outside stimuli, and even more sensitive to pain, rather than less.

Additionally, according to a study at PubMed, over half of pain patients who stay on opioids for more than 90 days remain on them years later. Since these patients remain on the medications, their chronic pain problems have not lessened or resolved.

Furthermore, while the effectiveness of opioids decreases, your tolerance rapidly increases. Patients on continuous opioid therapy usually see their dosage go up over time as their tolerance to the drugs increases.

Without strict self-discipline—which, let’s be honest, is difficult to maintain when you are experiencing constant pain—you will end up ingesting more and more of the drug to achieve the same relief a smaller dose initially gave you.

Opioids are also addictive

Increased dosages are dangerous for two reasons. For one, the more opioids you take, the higher risk you run of overdosing. We cover opioid overdose prevention and reversal on this page.

Also, the longer you use opioids and the more you use, the more likely you are to become dependent or addicted to the pain relievers.

This study found that among a cohort of opioid-dependent patients who were seeking addiction treatment with buprenorphine, 29% reported that they had been introduced to opioids through a physician treating their pain.

If you find yourself in this situation, addiction is yet another hurdle you must overcome to truly get your chronic pain under control and take your life back.

Options for managing chronic pain

Opioids are not your only option for managing chronic pain. Here is a list of options for managing your pain. Review them and ask your doctor what alternatives might work best for you.

Here is a quick tip from PainWise on pain management techniques. See more on our YouTube channel.


Next: Learn about the risks and dangers of opioid misuse »