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Pain Management and Medication Safety

Image shows an older woman holding her hands to her face in a gesture of pai, while her husband looks on with a look of concern on his face.

According to the 2018 Ohio Health Issues Poll, about 3 out of 10 Ohioans have been prescribed a pain reliever in the past five years. People who rate their health as fair or poor are 18% more likely to be prescribed pain relievers than those who rate their health as good or excellent. One in 10 Ohioans who have been prescribed pain relievers say their prescriber gave them more medicine than they needed.

Treating pain in older adults can present significant challenges. When an older adult has a number of chronic conditions, some may affect which drugs they can use, while others may require medications that may put them at a higher risk for drug interactions.

Disclaimer: The information on this page is not intended as a substitute for medical advice or instruction from a health care professional. Always take medication as prescribed or according to manufacturer's instructions. Consult with your doctor, pharmacist or other health care provider before changing your medication habits.

What are opioids?

Opioids are a group of drugs generally used to relieve severe, acute, temporary pain. They are powerful drugs and are commonly prescribed following surgeries and to treat conditions with high levels of pain. They can have mild side effects, such as sleepiness, or more serious side effects, such as slowed breathing and heart rate. They also can be highly addictive because of the relaxed feeling, or "high" they produce. Overdose, brain damage, and death are serious concerns with this class of drugs, as are serious withdrawal symptoms after stopping the medication.

Common names of opioid medications include Vicodin, Percocet, oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine and codeine.

Although opioids are not appropriate to treat long-term, chronic pain, your health care professional may prescribe them when non-prescription remedies (such as aspirin, Aleve, Tylenol, or Advil) aren't effective or no longer relieve your pain. Opioids come with serious risks for you to consider, including:

  • Potential psychological dependence or addiction;
  • Unintentional overdose;
  • Serious side effects, such as sedation, nausea or vomiting; and
  • Other individuals stealing or accessing your prescribed medications without permission.

Are you at risk? Certain people have personal factors that place them at higher risk of addiction to opioid medications. Find out your risk level with the Opioid Risk Quiz from Take Charge Ohio.

To reduce these risks, follow your doctor's instructions carefully and take the medication exactly as prescribed. Make sure your health care provider knows about other medications and supplements you are taking when he or she prescribes an opioid for you.

Alternatives to medications

Pain is complex and there are many ways to treat it, with and without medication. The best treatment generally depends on the cause, location, and type of pain. No single technique can be guaranteed to relieve pain, so a combination of approaches is often recommended. Talk to your health care provider about your pain management options and which ones might be right for you.

Alternatives to medications for treating chronic pain include:

  • Prescription and non-prescription medications;
  • Trigger point injections;
  • Surgical implants;
  • Electrical stimulation;
  • Bioelectric therapy;
  • Physical therapy;
  • Exercise;
  • Psychological treatment;
  • Mind-body therapies (relaxtion techniques, meditation, guided imagery, biofeedback and hypnosis);
  • Accupuncture;
  • Chiropractic treatment and massage;
  • Nutrtitional supplements and herbal remedies; and
  • Special diets.

Chronic pain self-management workshops

The Ohio Department of Aging, through Ohio's area agencies on aging, offers Chronic Pain Self-Management workshops around the state. These free or low-cost programs are six-week, community-based workshops that can help you learn proven strategies to manage chronic pain and health conditions and feel healthier. It is an evidence-based program designed to teach you to set your own goals and make step-by-step plans to improve your health.

Find a workshop starting soon near you with our Health & Wellness Calendar.

Chronic Pain Self-Management workshops use trained leaders to teach you how to manage your pain. Topics include:

  • Setting and achieving personal goals;
  • Strategies to deal with pain, stress, fatigue, and depression;
  • Using physical activity to maintain and improve strength, flexibility, and endurance;
  • How to use medications safely and appropriately; and
  • Better ways to talk with your doctor and your family about your pain.

Chronic Pain Self-Management workshops are for you if you have long-term pain or care for someone living with chronic pain. They are ideal for people looking for better ways to manage pain symptoms. They can also help if you feel tired, alone, or fearful because of your health or the health of your loved one, or if you avoid doing things you enjoy doing because of your pain.

Workshops can help you:

  • Deal with stress, frustration, fatigue, pain, and depression;
  • Use physical activity to maintain and improve strength, flexibility, and endurance;
  • Use medications safely and appropriately;
  • Talk with your doctor and your family about your health;
  • Use good nutrition to improve health and control symptoms;
  • Evaluate new treatments; and
  • Set and achieve personal health goals.