Conditions and Treatments

Narcotic (Opioid) Medications for Pain


Pain medicines of the narcotic (more properly termed opioid) classification can be very beneficial in reducing pain and improving function in people suffering from short-term or chronic pain.  These medicines can have a profoundly positive effect in this regard.  Opioid medications also bring with them certain risks of impairment, abuse, or other risks to society at large, however.  It is thus very important that these medications be used properly and that the prescribing physician and patient develop a relationship based on openness, education, and trust.

To help facilitate an appropriate and trusting physician/patient relationship, it is important that any potential for negative impact of these medicines be identified.  Risk factors or prior history of addiction or medication dependence should be discussed openly before and during treatment with pain medications. For instance, if there is a personal or family history of substance abuse, any history of preadolescent sexual abuse, or history of psychological disorders, then there could be an increased risk of addiction to prescription pain medications. Ongoing risk and functional assessments, periodic urine drug screening, and drug contracts are routinely used to help ensure the safe and effective use of opioid pain medications.

Useful parameters to measure during opioid medication use, to ensure that the medication is providing a positive effect, include: the impact on social functioning; the true degree of pain relief achieved; level of function or improvement in function with work, school, home or recreational activities; and mental and emotional health. Function in these key areas should be discussed frequently with the prescribing physician.

See Controlled Substance Prescribing or Medication Management pages for more details.

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