Just Say No To Drugs. If You Want.

Please note: This post is not medical advice. I am not a doctor and this post should not take the place of consultation with your medical team. Also, this post is not directed at people who deal with chronic pain.

I’ve had the same conversation with two friends in the last two weeks, so I thought I’d share.

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Both were going through some temporary medical issues that came with a lot of pain. One – let’s call her Sara -- was in a bad car accident and was prescribed Percocet for musculoskeletal issues. The other – let’s call him Mitch -- was having a dental procedure and was prescribed high doses of ibuprofen. In situations like Sara’s and Mitch’s, there is a balance that needs to be achieved between pain management and functionality. Doctors don’t necessarily consider your daily functionality when prescribing pain medication, but if you have a job and/or kids, or if you are anyone who doesn’t want to miss out on parts of your life, you need that balance.

Sara and Mitch were both struggling with a doctor’s instructions when they talked to me. They couldn’t function on the dosages they were prescribed, but their pain was strong enough that they needed something to manage. Sara was also afraid of developing an addiction to the Percocet.

This is what I told them both:

  • You can say no. At any time during the course of your treatment, you have the right to ask for something that works better for you. If you know you don’t react well to a particular painkiller, ask your doctor for something lighter. If you don’t realize it until you get home, don’t wait until you see them again. Call the doctor’s office and request a different prescription. Sara was so much happier when the doctor prescribed Darvocet, which is a step down in strength from Percocet, because it managed her pain and she wasn’t sleeping 20 hours a day.
  • You don’t have to take the whole amount. If you feel like you can’t function on your prescription, work with your doctor to find the right dose, especially with a medication you can get over the counter in smaller doses. Ask your doctor if you can start with a lower dose and, if yes, get a new prescription or cut the pill in half and take the smaller over-the-counter doses as needed or start pushing the doses farther apart. Keep a journal of dosages, effects, and times so you know whether your adjustments are working. Together, you and your doctor can find the appropriate medication and dosage for you to manage your pain and your everyday life.

For chronic and autoimmune patients, taking the lowest dose of painkillers possible can be especially important. While generally safe, painkillers can negatively affect certain chronic conditions or cause further damage to organs that are already impaired. When I was diagnosed with kidney disease, my doctor told me that frequent use of painkillers other than acetaminophen (Tylenol)-based products could make it worse. In the last 12 years, I have only taken ibuprofen (e.g. Advil), naproxen (e.g. Aleve), or aspirin two or three times. There's one notable exception; diabetics are at very high risk of heart disease, so I take baby aspirin (81 mg) every day to help protect my heart. It makes me nervous, but with proper monitoring through blood tests and oversight by my doctors, I decided I was willing to take it.

The bottom line: if your doctor prescribes something you don’t think is right for you, you are allowed to ask for their help finding a better way. If your doctor won’t work with you, it’s time to find a different doctor.