My doctor prescribed opioids for pain. Should I worry about becoming addicted?

Opioids are addictive. It is important to understand that receiving a prescription for opioids, even for a long period of time, does not automatically mean you will develop an addiction. To reduce the risk of developing an addiction, follow your care provider’s instructions very carefully. A good strategy is to work with your care provider to start with the lowest dose of opioids in small quantities to start. It can also be helpful to consider incorporating non-opioid options in your treatment plan. If you are now or have in the past had difficulty with addiction to a substance like alcohol or other drugs, you may be at increased risk of addiction. Talk to your primary care provider about any concerns you have about opioids and addiction.

I heard about pain specialists. Do I need to see one?

Pain specialists are physicians who specialise in the treatment of acute and chronic pain. Like other specialists in the health care system, a referral is usually needed to see a pain specialist or access a pain clinic. Talk to your primary care provider to determine if your treatment requires this level of care.

Why do I feel I need to take more of my prescription to get the same level of pain control?

You can reduce your risk of opioid overdose by following your primary care provider’s instructions very carefully and letting him or her know if you have concerns with your prescription. It is also important to avoid taking other substances like alcohol or other medications like benzodiazepines when you are taking opioids as these can increase the risk of overdose. If you have concerns that you or a loved one may be at risk of an opioid overdose, it is a good idea to have a Take Home Naloxone kit handy.

I’m having a hard time controlling pain. If I double up on my medication, what can happen?

It is important to follow your primary care provider’s instructions carefully. If taking more that prescribed, there is a risk of developing tolerance, which means that more of the drug is needed to achieve the same results. There is also the risk of developing an addiction to opioids or what is now commonly recognized as an opioid use disorder. Taking more medications than prescribed can increase the risk of overdose. If you are having difficulty managing your pain, or are having concerns that more medication is needed, talk to your care provider and avoid taking more medications than prescribed. Together, you and your primary care provider can work together to fine tune your treatment plan. You may benefit from adding non-opioid options to your treatment plan.

I have heard that people who can’t stop taking opioids because they are addicted just have poor will power. Is this true?

It is important to understand that opioid dependency/addiction, or what is now referred to as an opioid use disorder, is recognized as a health condition and is not the result of choice or a sign of moral weakness. In fact, it is not something to be ashamed of. No one is immune to developing a substance use disorder. It is important to understand stigma. Health Canada defines stigma as negative attitudes and beliefs about people because of their circumstances in life. This can prevent some from seeking help. We all have a role to play in reducing stigma. If you are concerned that you, or someone you love may be experiencing symptoms of addiction, it is important to talk with your primary health provider about it; delaying it may make things worse. You can also reach out to your Community Addiction and Mental Health Services for support and for more information on treatment options for opioid use disorders.