Paragon Press – September 2014

Pills that kill

Pain pill overuse

Opioids: prescription medications that relieve pain, such as hydrocodone(Vicodin), oxycodone(Percocet), morphine, and codeine.


  • 46 people die every day in our country from legally prescribed pain pills.
  • Prescriptions for opioids have climbed 300% over the past decade.
  • Opioids are the most commonly prescribed medication in the U.S., with a cholesterol drug coming in second.
  • Patients have a 5-25% chance of becoming addicted to pain pills if taken long term.
  • 60% of opioid overdoses occur in people who got their prescription from a doctor.
  • 90% of people with chronic pain end up taking opioids. There is little evidence that opioids work when treating chronic pain.


  • It is less likely for women to become addicted than men – While the numbers for addicted men outnumber that for women, women often become addicted more quickly than men.
  • Opioids are always the best treatment for pain – Over the counter pain relievers, such as Ibuprofen and Tylenol, can relieve a variety of pain issues and are sometimes the best choice for pain relief. It depends on the pain, so discuss this with your healthcare professional. Do not discount non-prescription pain relievers just because they aren’t prescription.
  • You cannot become addicted if you take opioids to treat pain – It is easy to become addicted to pain killers when they are not taken exactly according to your doctor’s instructions
  • Extended-release pills are safer – These are definitely stronger than short-acting forms, but there is no evidence that long-acting drugs work better or are safer than short-acting ones. Doctors have found people dependent on opioids seek out the higher potency of the long-acting varieties.

Avoiding the addiction

Nobody who takes opioids with a prescription expects to become addicted to them. There are a few things you can do to prevent this from happening you:

  • Take pain pills exactly as directed.
  • Know how to lower your dose as your body heals and needs less pain
    medication. Get clear instruction from your healthcare provider.
  • If pain and function aren’t improving by 30%, the pain pills likely are not
    working and are not worth the risks. Talk with your doctor instead of taking
    more and more pills.
  • Keep all prescription pain medicine in a locked, secured location.
  • Discuss how to transition to nonprescription pain medicines, if your healthcare
    provider is not specific about this. There should be a plan for weaning off the
  • Be responsible for your healthcare by seeing your healthcare provider regularly
    and make sure your pain pill regimen is appropriate for your situation over
    time. Chronic pain especially requires regular management.

Finally, it is important that you never share your pain medication. Medications are given specifically for the individual, for specific reasons. Potential interactions with other medications, unforeseen side effects, allergies, inappropriate dosage, and the wrong drug for the treatment regimen, potentially making your medical situation worse are just a few of the reasons sharing is a bad idea. What is good for you might not be good for another person. Again, you need to be under a healthcare professional’s care for pain killers. Take them very seriously so you can have the best medical outcome, best pain control, and avoid complications.

The following articles were referenced for this newsletter:

“Deadly Pain Pills.” Consumer Reports, August, 2014: 19-22.