Definition and Overview

People who suffer from pain are typically given pain medications. While mild pain relievers are available over the counter, there are pain conditions that require more powerful medications, for which prescriptions are required. These medications work by blocking the nerve signals that are transmitted to the brain to inhibit the body’s ability to perceive pain.

However, most stronger and powerful pain medications affect other parts of the brain as a side effect. Due to this, the use of these medications is strictly controlled through prescriptions to ensure the safety of the individuals taking the said medications.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

Pain medication prescriptions are helpful for people suffering from an injury or underlying condition that causes them to feel pain of varying levels, from mild to severe. They are also beneficial for patients who have undergone a medical procedure or surgery that causes some residual pain during the recovery stage.

Regardless of the cause of pain, prescription pain medications can effectively improve patient comfort and reduce pain symptoms, as long as they are used correctly.

The effects of pain medications may differ based on their specific types. The two most common types of prescription pain relievers are:

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs - These are pain medications that can also help stop inflammation. Also known as NSAIDs, some of these drugs are available over the counter; these include naproxen, ibuprofen, and aspirin, which are relatively shorter-acting in comparison to prescription NSAIDs. Thus, they are not appropriate for patients who require longer-lasting relief from chronic pain, which can be better controlled by prescription NSAIDs, including:

  • Fenoprofen
  • Diclofenac
  • Etodolac
  • Tolmetin
  • Sulindac
  • Nabumetone
  • Mefenamic acid
  • Piroxicam
  • Indocin, specifically recommended for gout-related pain


The use of prescription NSAIDs is controlled due to the potential side effects of taking such medications in excess doses. These include stomach upset, bleeding, and kidney problems.

Narcotic pain medications - Also called opioids, these medications are stronger and more powerful. It is for this reason that they are strictly available with a prescription and are only prescribed for cases where the pain involved is severe, chronic, or acute. The use of these medications is closely supervised by a medical professional to prevent side effects and potential abuse due to the narcotic nature of said drugs. Some examples are:

  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone
  • Oxymorphone
  • Methadone
  • Meperidine
  • Tramadol


Narcotics are categorized into three different categories, namely Schedule I, Schedule II, and Schedule III. Prescriptions for Schedule II medications should be enclosed in a tamper-proof package and should be brought to the pharmacy by the patient himself while prescriptions for Schedule III medications can be called for or transmitted via fax to the pharmacy.

Narcotics also come in two main types:

  • Immediate-release – These pain medications take effect almost immediately and can last for several hours.
  • Sustained-release – This means that the effect is delivered at intervals and can last for up to three days. These are the safest option for chronic pain, as the patients can experience continual pain relief without having to keep taking the drugs every few hours. The use of sustained-release medications can also enable chronic pain sufferers to go on with their normal life despite their condition.

How Does the Procedure Work?

Any medical professional can issue pain medication prescriptions. However, if a patient is experiencing chronic pain that is hindering him from living a normal life, a visit to a pain management specialist or a pain clinic may be beneficial. These specialists provide a comprehensive pain management program, of which prescription pain medications are a part, along with other pain treatments such as injections of local anesthetics, nerve blocks, physical therapy, relaxation techniques, and surgery, depending on the patient’s condition and needs.

However, before issuing a prescription for a painkiller, a physician first ensures that there is a legitimate reason and specific diagnosis that causes severe or chronic pain in the patient.

Possible Risks and Complications

Pain medication prescriptions are provided to make sure that these drugs are being used only when needed, when the benefits outweigh the risks, and at safe dosages. This is to ensure that side effects can be prevented.

The common side effects and risks of taking pain medications include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Sedation
  • Bleeding
  • Irritation of the stomach lining
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Addiction


Narcotic pain medications also have a strong abuse potential, which means there is a risk that the patient will become addicted to the drug. They are also closely associated with deaths caused by accidental overdose. Thus, they are not prescribed for patients who have a history of substance abuse, and the prescribing doctors provide a specific schedule to make sure the previous dose wears off before the next is taken.

For pain medication prescriptions to lead to the desired results, it is important that the right medication is used and prescribed depending on the specific condition of the patient. The prescription should take into consideration the cause, severity, and nature of the pain the patient experiences as well as his body’s response to the medication. If a drug does not seem to be working properly, or if the side effects are too severe for his body to handle, another pain medication is typically prescribed.

To help prevent the side effects of pain medication prescriptions, patients are advised to drink a lot of fluids, consume more fiber, and get plenty of exercise.

References

  • American Family Physician. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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