What You Need to Know About Taking Pain Medication

Opioids can be beneficial but be aware of the risks

Updated on: August 2, 2019

Originally posted on: June 28, 2019
by
The Roadmap for Medicare staff specialize in all topics related to Medicare Part D, choosing a Medicare plan, and making smart health decisions in retirement.

Chronic pain from conditions such as arthritis and diabetes is common as we age, and opioids are often prescribed as the treatment. It’s also typical to have more surgical procedures as we get older, with opioids being the usual treatment for postsurgical pain. Therefore, it’s no surprise that each year an increasing amount of Medicare Part D members are prescribed an opioid.

While opioids can be very effective for managing pain, they can have side effects ranging from dizziness, nausea, and drowsiness to the risk of dependence and addiction. When opioids are used in older adults, seniors have an increased risk for falls and injury, as well as an increased risk for addiction. In fact, Medicare beneficiaries are now the fastest-growing population with diagnosed opioid use disorders. The higher the dosage or the longer you use opioids, the greater the odds are of your experiencing severe side effects and becoming dependent or addicted to the drug. As a result, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) now requires Part D plans to limit prescriptions to a maximum supply of 7 days for patients newly prescribed an opioid.​

These additional tips can also help you use pain medication safely.

  • When discussing potential pain treatment, ask your doctor if there are alternatives to opioids you can use. Let the doctor know if there’s any personal or family history of addiction. If the doctor recommends opioid treatment, ask if you can begin with the lowest dose possible.
  • If you agree to try an opioid, it’s extremely important to use this medication exactly as directed by the doctor.
  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions about the length of time you should take the medication, its side effects and how you should manage them.
  • Don’t mix opioids with alcohol or sedatives such as sleeping pills or anti-anxiety drugs – doing so can be very dangerous to your health. In fact, more than one in five opioid deaths involves alcohol.
  • Opioids can impair your driving so ask your doctor if it’s safe to get behind the wheel.

It’s also very important to keep opioids out of the hands of others since 55% of people who misuse opioids get them from family or friends.

  • Don’t share your pain medication with anyone, even if the person has similar symptoms to your own.
  • Store the medication in a secure place where it’s out of reach of children and out of sight to prevent accidental ingestion or theft.
  • Search “opioid disposal” at FDA.gov to find out how to safely dispose of your unused medication.

If you know someone who is struggling with addiction, visit the National Drug Helpline website or contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline
at 1-800-662-4357.