8 Pain Pill Mistakes

Painkillers come in many forms and potencies, are available by prescription or over-the-counter (OTC), and treat all sorts of physical pain. Over-the-counter pain pills such as aspirin and ibuprofen are staples in just about every medicine chest in the country.

While there is widespread use of painkillers, there is a lack of education and understanding about the appropriate use of these medications. Misuse of pain pills can result in a wide variety of health issues, including death.

Make sure to take note of these nine pain pill mistakes. They could save your life.

Mistake Number 1: If one pill is good, two pills must be better.

Doctors prescribe painkillers at the doses they believe will offer the greatest benefit at the least amount of risk. Doubling or tripling that dose won't speed up relief. It can, however, speed up the onset of harmful side effects.

What to Do: If you've given the pain pills time to work, but they are still are not relieving your pain, don't double up. See your doctor about why you are still having pain.

Mistake Number 2: Taking multiple painkillers at the same time.

Over-the-counter medications sold for different uses can have the same active ingredient. For example, a cold and cough remedy may have the same active ingredient as a headache remedy or a prescription pain reliever. If you take these different medications at the same time, not knowing about the duplication of ingredients, you could overdose.

What to Do: Avoid taking multiple medications with the same active ingredient. Read the active ingredients listed on the OTC medication package, and on the prescription pain pills container label.

Mistake Number 3: Drinking while taking pain pills.

Mixing pain pills with alcohol can lead to some serious issues--including death. Pain pills and alcohol generally enhance each other's effect.

What to Do: Follow the alcohol warning on the pain pill label, and don't drink alcohol (this includes beer and wine) when taking these medications.

Mistake Number 4: Driving on while painkillers.

Certain pain pills, particularly those containing opioids, can make drivers sleepy, slower to react to danger, and more likely to make mistakes.

What to Do: Do not drive or use any machinery that may injure you, especially when you first start taking pain pills.

Pain Pill Mistake Number 5: Sharing prescription medications.

Not all painkillers are safe for everyone. The dose of a pain medication that is safe for you could be high enough to cause an overdose and death in someone else, especially children. Additionally, they could have an allergic reaction to your painkiller, or it may interact with other medications they are taking.

What to Do: Do not share prescription pain medications.

Mistake Number 6: Not talking to the pharmacist. Sometimes the instructions on your prescription pain pills may not be clear to you.

What to Do: Even if you have to wait a few minutes, talk to your pharmacist. Ask: What do I need to know about this medicine? What do I need to avoid and be careful about?

Mistake Number 7: Taking expired pain pills.

Pills stored at home start to break down soon after their expiration date--especially those stored in the moist environment of a bathroom medicine cabinet. Some people can react to the breakdown products of the pills and end up in the emergency room.

What to Do: Go through your medicine cabinets and throw away expired pain pills.

Mistake Number 8: Cutting up pills.

Crushing or breaking pills can alter the rate at which the medication is absorbed and lead to overdose and death.

What to Do: Do not crush or break pills.

Note: The best way to avoid these mistakes is to follow your doctor's instructions and the directions on the pain pills carefully.


DeNoon, Daniel. "9 Pain Pill Mistakes." WebMD. 9 Jul. 2009.  Web. 6 Apr. 2010http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/chronic-pain-10/9-pain-pill-mistakes

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. FDA: "A Guide to Safe Use of Pain Medicine," 23 Feb. 2009. Web 6 Apr. 2010. http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm095673.htm

Mayo Clinic Staff. "Pain Medications: Read the label before you buy." MayoClinic.com. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pain-medications/PN00066

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Web. 6 Apr. 2010. http://www.drugabuse.gov/

Rabin, Roni Caryn. "Experts Warn about Long-Term Use of Pain Pills." New York Times. 6 May 2009. Web. 6 Apr. 2010.  http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/06/experts-warn-against-long-term-use-of-common-pain-pills/