Post provided by Barbara Bergin, MD
Last time I mentioned that prescription pain pill abuse was a national health issue. It’s really a difficult problem for doctors and patients. We don’t want any of our patients to get addicted to pain pills, but we also don’t want you to suffer unnecessarily after an injury or surgery. There’s a fine line between relieving the pain and overusing pain pills and it’s different for every patient.
Following a minor operation one patient might not take any pain pills at all, and another patient might take 8 hydrocodones a day for 2 weeks. The second patient might really be suffering from that pain more than the other patient. Their tolerance for pain might be less. But they might also be conditioned to taking lots of pain pills. They might require more because their system is used to taking narcotics. And then, as much as I hate to say it, there is the patient who just wants to get more pain pills. They want to save them for a rainy day. Or they might be sharing them or even selling them to friends and family members. It’s nearly impossible for a physician to know which one they’re prescribing pain pills to. Trust me; we try to figure it out as soon as possible.
But let’s assume you’ve just broken your first bone or you’ve just scheduled your first surgery, and you don’t want to take too many pain pills. But you also don’t want to suffer. How do you know how many pain pills to take, when to take them, and when to stop using them?
The prescription bottle might say to take 1-2 pills every 4-6 hours as needed for pain. At first you will probably take a couple every 4 or 5 hours. Generally speaking, the first couple of days after an injury or surgery are the worst. So after that, start cutting back on the numbers of pills you take. Just take one instead of two. Or start increasing the amount of time you wait before taking your next dose.
You could start taking non-narcotic pain relievers like Tylenol, Aleve or Advil, in between doses, with the plan that eventually you’ll completely switch to the non-narcotic stuff and toss the rest of the pain pills.
I’ve got some other ideas you can read about in a couple of days. I also want to talk about pain pill use in children.