Safe Use: Learn the Facts

Prescription pain medications can be helpful in managing pain and making it possible for an individual to improve his or her ability to function. If used incorrectly, prescription pain medications can be dangerous—even fatal. Below are some tips on safe use of prescription pain medication, as well as information on the tabs above about when to seek medical help and signs of possible addiction.


Tips for Safe Use of Prescription Pain Medications

  • Never take prescription pain medication that is not prescribed to you. Everyone responds differently to pain medication. A healthcare provider looks at many factors when prescribing, including the individual’s weight, other medications he or she is taking, tolerance for the drug being prescribed, severity of the pain, as well as other factors specific to the individual. What is safe for one person may not be safe for the other.
  • Never take your prescription pain medications more often or in higher doses than prescribed. Even if it feels like the pain medication is wearing off, the effect it is having in slowing your respiratory system continues. Taking a large, single dose of prescription pain medication or taking it more frequently than prescribed could cause severe respiratory depression or death. Your body must build up a tolerance to the effects on the respiratory system before the dose can be increased. Speak with your healthcare provider if you feel your prescribed dosage needs to be adjusted.
  • Never drink alcoholic beverages while taking prescription pain medications. Alcohol increases the toxicity of pain medication. Never mix the two—the combination can be deadly.1
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs – to include legally prescribed or over the counter medications – is not only dangerous, it is illegal. Many legally prescribed drugs, even when used as directed, can affect one’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. Drivers must follow the warning labels on their prescription bottles and medications. If the warning labels read, “Do not drive or operate heavy machinery while taking this medication” or “Caution should be used when driving or operating heavy machinery,” do not drive a car. Yes, your car is a piece of heavy machinery!
  • Never share your prescription pain medications with anyone. Besides being dangerous, it is a felony. Healthcare providers give dosage instructions based on the person to whom they prescribe the pain medication. Many factors go into this decision. What is safe for one person may not be safe for the other person. Providing someone else with your prescription pain medication is illegal. Sharing prescription pain medications can cause harm and even death to those we think we are helping. Never share prescriptions, regardless of circumstances.
  • Taking prescription pain medications with other depressants such as sleep aids, anti-anxiety medications, or cold medicine can be dangerous. Because each of these substances depresses your respiratory system and slows your breathing, their combined effects could lead to life-threatening respiratory depression. For your safety, make sure you talk to your healthcare provider about all drugs you are taking to avoid a harmful interaction.
  • Properly dispose of all unused and expired prescription pain medications. Disposing of leftover medication will prevent accidental ingestion by children, pets, or anyone else, as well as prevent theft or misuse. In small children, even a single dose of pain medication can be lethal. Do your part to ensure that these medications don’t get into the wrong hands.2
  • Tell your healthcare provider about ALL medicines and supplements you take. Healthcare providers need to have all the pieces of the puzzle in order to prescribe doses that will be safe for you. Your healthcare provider should know all the medications you are taking including supplements, vitamins, and other drugs.