Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Pain Management Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

A Guide to Safe Use of Pain Medicine

If you've ever been treated for severe pain from surgery, an injury, or an illness, you know just how vital pain relief medications can be.

Pain relief treatments come in many forms and potencies, are available by prescription or over-the-counter (OTC), and treat all sorts of physical pain-including that brought on by chronic conditions, sudden trauma, and cancer.

Recommended Related to Pain Management

Pain Clinics Overview

If you are among the 50 million Americans living with chronic pain, a full and active life may seem like an impossible dream. But don't give up. If the pain treatment you have tried doesn't provide relief, a pain clinic may help. A pain clinic is a health care facility that focuses on the diagnosis and management of chronic pain. Some specialize in specific diagnoses or in pain related to a specific region of the body. Also called pain management clinics, pain clinics often use a multidisciplinary...

Read the Pain Clinics Overview article > >

Pain relief medicines (also known as "analgesics" and "painkillers") are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Some analgesics, including opioid analgesics, act on the body's peripheral and central nervous systems to block or decrease sensitivity to pain. Others act by inhibiting the formation of certain chemicals in the body.

Among the factors health care professionals consider in recommending or prescribing them are the cause and severity of the pain.

Types of Pain Relievers

OTC Medications

These relieve the minor aches and pains associated with conditions such as headaches, fever, colds, flu, arthritis, toothaches, and menstrual cramps.

There are basically two types of OTC pain relievers: acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Acetaminophen is an active ingredient found in more than 600 OTC and prescription medicines, including pain relievers, cough suppressants, and cold medications.

NSAIDs are common medications used to relieve fever and minor aches and pains. They include aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen, as well as many medicines taken for colds, sinus pressure, and allergies. They act by inhibiting an enzyme that helps make a specific chemical.

Prescription Medications

Typical prescription pain relief medicines include opioids and non-opioid medications.

Derived from opium, opioid drugs are very powerful products. They act by attaching to a specific "receptor" in the brain, spinal cord, and gastrointestinal tract. Opioids can change the way a person experiences pain.

Types of prescription opioid medications include

  • morphine, which is often used before and after surgical procedures to alleviate severe pain
  • oxycodone, which is also often prescribed for moderate to severe pain
  • codeine, which comes in combination with acetaminophen or other non-opioid pain relief medications and is often prescribed for mild to moderate pain
  • hydrocodone, which comes in combination with acetaminophen or other non-opioid pain relief medications and is prescribed for moderate to moderately severe pain

FDA has recently notified makers of certain opioid drugs that these products will need to have a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) to ensure that the benefits continue to outweigh the risks.

Affected opioid drugs, which include brand name and generic products, are formulated with the active ingredients fentanyl, hydromorphone, methadone, morphine, oxycodone, and oxymorphone.

FDA has authority to require a REMS under the Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act of 2007.

Types of non-opioid prescription medications include ibuprofen and diclofenac, which treat mild to moderate pain.

Use as Directed

Pain medications are safe and effective when used as directed. However, misuse of these products can be extremely harmful and even deadly.

1 | 2 | 3

WebMD Public Information from the FDA

Today on WebMD

pain in brain and nerves
Top causes and how to find relief.
knee exercise
8 exercises for less knee pain.
 
acupuncture needles in woman's back
How it helps arthritis, migraines, and dental pain.
chronic pain
Get personalized tips to reduce discomfort.
 
foot conditions inherited
Video
lumbar spine
Slideshow
 
Woman opening window
Slideshow
Knee exercises
Slideshow
 
Woman shopping for vegetables
Slideshow
Sore feet with high heel shoes
Slideshow
 
acupuncture needles in woman's back
Slideshow
Hand on back
Slideshow