Common questions about pain medications

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young man taking pill

Do I need to take my meds if I feel fine?

Can I drive while taking medications?

When can I stop taking my medications?

How should I stop my medications?

​​Do I need to take my meds if I feel fine?

Prescribed pain medications are an important part of treating your pain. It is important to treat your pain as early as possible. Controlling your pain early on helps prevent a cycle of stress and increased pain.

Pain medications are more likely to work when your pain is less severe. Don’t wait until you cannot possibly bear it any longer before taking your medication.

In addition to your scheduled medications, your healthcare team might suggest that you take other medications as you need them – these are called “prn” (Latin abbreviation for “as the circumstances arise”). These “prn” medications should be taken in special situations only, for example before taking part in activities that might make your pain worse or when a painful episode begins.

Can I drive while taking medications?

Some medications, particularly opioids, may affect your alertness, your reaction time or other processes that could make it unsafe to drive any motorized vehicles or operate equipment. Whenever you start a new medication, talk to your healthcare team about how this medication might affect your ability to drive safely.

As a general rule, whenever you change your medications or medication routine, do not drive during the time it takes you to adjust unless you know exactly how a medication will affect you. Many people say they “don’t feel themselves” or have other unexpected side effects when they are changing their medication routine.

Remember, never drive if you feel impaired for any reason, whether due to medication, fatigue or pain.

When can I stop taking my medications?

Many people worry that they will have to take medications for the rest of their lives. However, there are times when you could decide with your healthcare team to decrease or stop your medications.

Here are some examples of when it might be time to reduce or your medications.

  • Pain is resolved: The condition causing your pain is resolved.
  • Pain is managed in other ways: You have learned other ways to manage pain, and you don’t need to use medications anymore.
  • Significant risks: The risks of taking the medication outweigh the benefits of pain relief.
  • Intolerable side effects: The adverse effects, or side effects, outweigh the benefits of pain relief.
  • Medical complications: You’re experiencing a medical complication.
  • Medication is not effective: Your medication does not improve your function, or fails to reduce your pain intensity by at least 30% (3 points on the 10-point pain scale).
  • Wanting to try going without a medication: Sometimes, you might simply want to see if you will feel better without a medication.

Important: Always talk to your healthcare team before changing or stopping your medications.

How should I stop my medications?

Stopping some medications such as opioids cold turkey can be dangerous. If you and your healthcare team decide to stop your medications, you will make a plan together to gradually decrease them rather than quit them suddenly. During this time, which could take between two weeks and four months, you will be supervised closely.

Just like when you start any new medications, it’s best to change gradually: the general rule is to decrease medications by 10 percent per week. But this schedule may be modified depending on the medication and the dose.

If you want to take a break from your medications, talk to your healthcare team and make a plan together.

​Sourc​es

Toronto Rehabilitation Institute (2011). Opioid Manager.​ [Accessed March 29, 2016]​

Last updated: May 2nd 2016