Prescription Painkiller Addiction: 7 Myths
Experts Debunk Myths About Prescription Pain Medication Addiction
3. Myth: Because most people don't get addicted to painkillers, I can use them as I please.
Reality: You need to use prescription painkillers (and any other drug)
properly. It's not something patients should tinker with themselves.
"They definitely have an addiction potential," says Gharibo. His advice: Use
prescription pain medicines as prescribed by your doctor and report your
responses -- positive and negative -- to your doctor.
Gharibo also says that he doesn't encourage using opioids alone, but as part
of a plan that also includes other treatment -- including other types of drugs,
as well as physical therapy and psychotherapy, when needed.
Gharibo says he tells patients about drugs' risks and benefits, and if he
thinks an opioid is appropriate for the patient, he prescribes it on a trial
basis to see how the patient responds.
And although you may find that you need a higher dose, you shouldn't take
matters into your own hands. Overdosing is a risk, so setting your dose isn't a
"I think the escalation of the dosage is key," says Seppala. "If people find
that they just keep adding to the dose, whether it's legitimate for pain or
not, it's worth taking a look at what's going on, especially if they're not
talking with the caregiver as they do that."
4. Myth: It's better to bear the pain than to risk addiction.
Reality: Undertreating pain can cause needless suffering. If you have pain,
talk to your doctor about it, and if you're afraid about addiction, talk with
them about that, too.
"People have a right to have their pain addressed," says Fishman. "When
someone's in pain, there's no risk-free option, including doing nothing."
Fishman remembers a man who came to his emergency room with pain from
prostate cancer that had spread throughout his body. "He was on no pain
medicine at all," Fishman recalls.
Fishman wrote the man a prescription for morphine, and the next day, the man
was out golfing. "But a week later, he was back in the emergency room with pain
out of control," says Fishman. "He stopped taking his morphine because he
thought anyone who took morphine for more than a week was an addict. And he was
afraid that he was going to start robbing liquor stores and stealing lottery
tickets. So these are very pervasive beliefs."
Weiss, who has seen her mother-in-law resist taking opioids to treat chronic
pain, notes that some people suffer pain because they fear addiction, while
others are too casual about using painkillers.
"We don't want to make people afraid of taking a medication that they need,"
says Weiss. "At the same time, we want people to take these drugs
5. Myth: All that matters is easing my pain.
Reality: Pain relief is key, but it's not the only goal.