When the doctor prescribes a narcotic painkiller, do we need to worry about addiction?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 05, 2011
Elizabeths asked...

When the doctor prescribes a narcotic painkiller, don't we need to worry about addiction?

Expert Answers

Nancy Nkansah, a clinical pharmacist, is an associate professor of clinical pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). She posts medication alerts and updates on http://www.ncapsul.com/capsulblog/, a blog designed to provide the public with practical medication management and safety tools. Nkansah is also the development director for Ncapsul, Inc., a service designed to provide the public with easy-to-use tools to prevent medication errors.

Narcotic painkillers and addiction-Not necessarily. Addiction is the term we use for someone whose body is both dependent on the medication to function and who has a psychological need to use the medication. It is considered to be substance abuse and the need to seek out a specific drug or type of drug.

Narcotic painkillers are very effective for those people who are diagnosed with a condition where it can help relieve pain. The primary concern is what we call dependence. This is when your body becomes used to the medication and the dose has to be increased for you to feel the same effect. Your doctor usually monitors this very closely. She/he will also monitor for other side effects commonly seen with the narcotics. Again, the focus is on using the medication as prescribed and notifying your doctor or pharmacist if you are experiencing side effects or not feeling quite yourself while using the medication. If you are concerned about becoming dependent on the medication, you can try to limit use of the on an as needed basis for your pain. If you are on scheduled dosing for chronic severe pain, then discuss your concern of dependence with your pharmacist or doctor to make sure you are on the right dose for you.