Managing Your Pain: How to Use Prescription Drugs Without Becoming Addicted

By January W. Payne

Michael Jackson’s death has brought renewed attention to prescription drug abuse, which has long been a problem for everyday Americans as well as pill-popping celebrities. About 48 million people, or 20 percent of Americans over age 12, have taken prescription medications—often, the painkillers called opioids—for nonmedical reasons, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and seniors are particularly vulnerable since they often juggle many medications. Those prescription opioids cause more drug overdose deaths than heroin and cocaine combined, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. ”

First, experts say it’s best to stick with one doctor to coordinate your care; that way, she will keep tabs on all the pain medications you’re taking. She may also be looking for signs of abuse. Pain specialists can monitor pill use and do urine drug testing to ward off addiction in their patients. They may also require patients to sign treatment agreements that give the doctor permission to take certain steps if he or she suspects addiction—including talking to family members about suspected abuse, says Howard Heit, a pain management and addiction medicine specialist based in Fairfax, Va.