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Monday, Aug. 28, 2017



Practice opioid medication safety

September is Pain Awareness Month. Pain Awareness Month was created to heighten awareness of the public to pain syndromes and their management. Approximately 100 million people experience chronic pain. One aspect of Pain Awareness Month is educating the public on the proper use of medications used to treat pain.

Opioids are among the most powerful medications available for the treatment of pain, but they have limits. It’s important to understand these limitations so patients can take them safely. First, opioids are not the drug of choice for all pain syndromes. Some pain syndromes are best treated with other medication. Chronic pain syndromes, pain lasting more than three months, may not be completely relieved with opioids. Increasing the dose does not improve pain control and puts the patient at risk of an overdose and possibly death. For these reasons, creating a treatment plan with your physician, and outlining clear expectations on the part of your physician and yourself, will help ensure that you attain the maximum benefit from pain medication and keep risk at a minimum.

Opioid pain medications are safe and effective only if they are used properly. Patients prescribed opioid pain medication are ultimately responsible for their safe use. As many as one in four patients taking an opioid long-term struggles with addiction. When opioids are abused or misused, they can cause serious side effects and even death. To avoid serious side effects from opioids, do not increase the dose or frequency of administration. Extra doses may lead to an overdose. Alcohol, muscle relaxers, and anxiety or sleeping medication may enhance sedation from opioids and cause you to stop breathing. Avoid driving or operating dangerous machinery while taking opioids.

Practice opioid medication safety around the house. Educate family members about how to recognize the signs of opioid overdose (slow, shallow breathing; pale and clammy skin; drowsiness and confusion) and to call 911 if these symptoms occur. The majority of opioid abuse among young people between the ages of 12 and 25 occurs with the use of prescription opioids acquired from friends and family. Protect family, children and pets by keeping opioid medications in a safe, preferably locked, space. Dispose of unused opioid pain medication. Never share opioids with others or take another’s pain medication.

The goal of chronic pain management is to reduce pain and improve the quality of life. Opioid pain medications are one part of managing chronic pain, but they may be associated with the potential for serious harm. Understanding the role of opioids in managing your chronic pain will help to ensure they are used safely and effectively. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your pain medication. Set realistic goals for pain management with your doctor. Take time this month to learn how to take opioids safely.

Tom Driscoll, clinical pharmacist, Christus Shreveport- Bossier Health System


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