When you or a loved one is prescribed an opioid, there are a number of ways to ensure your success and improve safe use. First, we’d advocate working with your physician to develop reasonable treatment goals. Your pain treatment plan should provide clear-cut, individualized, and measurable goals at the start of treatment.
If you don’t know where to start, we’d suggest goals that include a reduced level of pain accompanied by an increase in function or measurable improvements in quality of life. Lower levels of pain without improvement in activity is rarely a recipe for success.
Include an accountability partner in your plan or create a weekly accountability statement for yourself to see if you’re meeting your goals. We suggest doing both.
Others can learn to recognize side effects earlier than may be apparent to yourself, and are key resources if life-threatening, adverse effects occur. Naloxone, the reversal antidote for opioid side effects that impair the ability to breathe, can be administered via simple instructions but only if someone recognizes the side effect is occurring.
Planning for the future
Life circumstances will evolve, so adapt your pain treatment plan based on successes or challenges you encounter along the way to reaching your goals. Make it a point to review the list of all your medications, even medications used for disorders other than pain and any over-the-counter medications. Relying on your pharmacist to review or delve deeper into the discussions you’ve had with other members of your healthcare team is an often overlooked opportunity.
Throughout the course of opioid therapy, you and your healthcare team should regularly weigh the potential benefits and risks of continued treatment to determine whether opioid medications remain the best option.
Healthcare providers like you to ask questions — it shows you understand the treatment plan and allows us to fill in gaps. If you or a loved one notes you’re taking medications longer than originally intended, become unsuccessful in your efforts to cut down use, or develop cravings for medications, mention these challenges to your physician to help further customize your treatment plan.
Once opioid medications are no longer needed, dispose of them properly. Sharing medications with others can be unsafe since your doctor has selected the strength and frequency for you individually. When the time for disposal comes, we recommend using the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Public Disposal Locator website, which is free to use.