Pain Medication at Home: Top Do's and Don'ts

Here is a brief list of Do's and Don'ts, which apply to you no matter which medicines you are taking for pain.


  • Know the name, dosage and side effects, if any, of your medications.
  • Have a responsible member of your family learn the timing of your medications and the way you take them.
  • Follow the instructions on the label carefully. Many medicines for pain are ordered "PRN"; this means you take them "as needed"; take these medications BEFORE your pain gets severe. They are more effective at the START of pain.
  • Reorder your medication before you run out of it.
  • Remember that narcotics require a written form from your physician, so it is important to call for refills during office hours.
  • Know the name and phone number of your pharmacy.
  • TRIPLE check to make certain you have the right medications before taking them. If your eyesight is poor, use a magnifying glass to read the label.
  • Keep a written list of all the medications you are currently taking. Include on this list any medications you have taken in the past which have given you unpleasant side effects, and any medications to which you are allergic. Carry a copy of the list in your wallet or purse. Bring it with you when you visit your doctor, or if you return to the hospital.
  • Keep a careful record of each time you take your medicine, including the date and time (AM or PM).


  • Transfer drugs from one container to another.
  • Take medications in the dark-read the labels.
  • Leave medications within easy reach of children.
  • Stop taking medications without notifying your doctor.
  • Neglect to notify your doctor if your medication is not relieving your pain.
  • Change your medication schedule without first checking with your doctor.

To conclude, pain is a complex experience with both physical and emotional factors. Medication is just one way of relieving pain. See the sections on recreation, massage and meditation, which are also helpful in relieving pain.

Learning to control your pain means making careful observations about the way you experience it, when you experience it, and the effects your various medications have on it. Your family should also participate in making these observations. If this information is presented clearly to your physician, the types of medication and dosages can be adjusted to fit your needs for pain relief.

Once the medication has been decided upon by your physician, you and your family will only need a little practice and you will be able to take control of your pain relief program.

Read Administering Pain Medication at Home


Editor's Note: Adapted from A Comprehensive Guide for Cancer Patients and Their Families. Bull Publishing Company: Palo Alto, CA, 1980. Selection authored by Lizabeth Light, BSN.

Ernest Rosenbaum

Ernest Rosenbaum, MD, is an oncologist affiliated with Stanford University and with the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California, San Francisco, where he has developed protocols for supportive care and clinical practices. See full bio