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NIDA. (2005, September 9). NIDA Community Drug Alert Bulletin - Prescription Drugs. Retrieved from

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What are some of the problems with prescribing pain medications?

There is a fine balance between under-prescribing and over-prescribing pain relievers, particularly opioids.

The data available to us so far suggests that the risk of becoming addicted to prescription pain medication is minimal in those who are treated on a short-term basis. The risk for patients with chronic pain is less well understood. Some studies have shown that those most vulnerable to becoming addicted to prescription pain medications have a history of psychological disorders, prior substance abuse problems, or a family history of these disorders.

Pain management for patients who have substance abuse disorders is particularly challenging for the medical profession. However, these patients still can be successfully treated with opioid pain medications; they may need to be admitted to a treatment or recovery program and monitored closely if prescribed controlled substances for pain.

Developing effective treatments for addiction and pain medications that are less likely to be abused is a priority for NIDA. For example, the medication buprenorphine/naloxone (marketed as Suboxone), developed by NIDA in collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry for the treatment of opioid addiction, may provide an alternative treatment for pain that has less potential for abuse than other pain medications. However, further research is needed before this practice can be recommended.