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Tips for Safe Use of Pain Medicine

Pain Medicine Is Safe and Effective When Used As Directed


Updated March 04, 2009

Pain medicine is a major part of osteoarthritis treatment. Pain medicine is considered safe and effective when used as directed. It's important for you to understand the benefits and risks of using pain medicine.

Types of Pain Medicine

Start by learning which pain medicines are available to you. There are over-the-counter medications and prescription medications.

Over-The-Counter Pain Medicine

Over-the-counter pain medicine means you can buy it without a prescription at your local drugstore(s). It includes acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Acetaminophen can be found as an ingredient in more than 600 over-the-counter and prescription medications. That's why it is so important to check how much acetaminophen is included in any given product. Add up your daily acetaminophen intake and be sure you don't exceed maximum allowable doses for acetaminophen (4,000 mg/day).

Prescription Pain Medicines

Many prescription pain medications are opoids, such as morphine, oxycodone, codeine, and hydrocodone.

Tramadol, generic for Ultram, belongs to the class of drugs known as opiate agonists. Primarily, tramadol works by changing the way the body senses pain.

Tips for Safe Use

There are certain basics you need to follow to ensure safe use of pain medicine:

  • Never change your medicine or dose before talking to your doctor.
  • Never take more than the maximum allowable dose for your pain medicine. (Excessive acetaminophen can damage the liver. High doses of NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney damage. Patients over 60 years old, those who take blood thinners or steroids, and those with a history of bleeding are at higher risk as well).
  • Don't drive while taking opioids, which can make you drowsy.
  • Reduce the risk of drug interactions while taking certain pain medicine, particularly opoids. Don't mix them with alcohol, antihistamines, barbiturates or benzodiazepines. Always check with your doctor about possible drug interactions.

Opioids slow breathing. If combined with other drugs or alcohol (which also slow breathing) life-threatening respiratory depression could occur.

Point to Remember

Always be honest when communicating with your doctor about pain medicine use. Discuss how much was prescribed, how much you are really using, and always discuss your most recent medications. Have a discussion about the effectiveness of the pain medicine you take. Is it working? Should you stay on it? Are the benefits outweighing the risks? This is a discussion you must have on a regular basis. Otherwise, you risk losing track of how safe and effective a particular pain medicine is for you.


A Guide to Safe Use of Pain Medicine. FDA Consumer Health Information. February 23, 2009.

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