Sometimes, strong medications called opioids are needed to control pain. Opioid pain relievers are generally safe when taken for a short time as prescribed by your doctor, but they can become addictive, especially if they are misused. Regular use can lead to dependence. Never take opioids in greater amounts or more often than prescribed.
Using opioids can also increase risk for falls, dizziness, and other ailments in older adults.
Becoming addicted to prescription pain medicine can happen to anyone, including older adults. Sometimes, these treatments are the only ones available that can help. But, sometimes other treatments can and should be tried first or can be used intermittently or simultaneously. So, ask your doctor if there is another medicine or a non-medicine alternative you can try. Tell your doctor if you or a family member has a history of alcohol or drug abuse.
For more information about opioid use, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.
Opioid addiction can be treated. If you or someone close to you needs help for a substance use disorder, talk with your doctor, or contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-4357 (toll-free).
Medicines to Treat Pain
Your doctor may prescribe one or more of the following pain medications. Talk with your doctor about their safety and the right dose to take.
- Acetaminophen may help all types of pain, especially mild to moderate pain. Acetaminophen is found in over-the-counter and prescription medicines. People who have more than three drinks per day or who have liver disease should not take acetaminophen.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen. Long-term use of some NSAIDs can cause side effects, like internal bleeding or kidney problems, which make them unsafe for many older adults. You may not be able to take ibuprofen if you have high blood pressure.
- Narcotics (also called opioids) are used for moderate to severe pain and require a doctor’s prescription. They may be habit-forming. They can also be dangerous when taken with alcohol or certain other drugs. Examples of narcotics are codeine, morphine, and oxycodone.
- Other medications are sometimes used to treat pain. These include antidepressants, anticonvulsive medicines, local painkillers like nerve blocks or patches, and ointments and creams.
As people age, they are at risk for developing more side effects from medications. It’s important to take exactly the amount of pain medicine your doctor prescribes. Don’t chew or crush your pills if they are supposed to be swallowed whole. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist if you’re having trouble swallowing your pills.