Morphine, hydrocodone, fentanyl . . . with the opioid crisis in our country, it can be scary to hear that a frail or seriously ill relative needs this type of medicine. What are the risks of addiction?
Fortunately, addiction is rarely an issue for individuals dealing with cancer or a painful terminal condition.
Understanding addiction. People who are “addicted” have such an intense desire for a drug, they do whatever it takes to get more of it. Their craving overpowers their concerns about relationships and their ability to function in the world. People with a painful, serious illness rarely behave this way.
The need for more medication. Over time, the body develops a “tolerance.” This means that a higher dose of the drug is needed to achieve the same relief. This is just a biological truth. A legitimate need for more medication is a far cry from an addictive craving that sparks irrational behavior.
Breakthrough pain. It is also very common with cancer and other conditions to have pain spikes in between doses. A booster dose of the medication is then essential. It is not a sign of addiction. Simply part of the unpredictability of pain.
Possible signs of addiction
- Going to multiple doctors for pain medicine
- Going to multiple pharmacies to fill prescriptions
- Using up a prescription early
- Taking ALL the breakthrough doses
If you are worried. Ask your relative’s health provider if they are concerned. If your loved one has a history of substance abuse, let the doctor know early on. Ask about trying different types of pain medication. Perhaps the opioid can be used in rotation with others. Spiritual distress can also be a source of physical pain. If medication is not enough, ask if a visit with a chaplain—a medical member of the clergy—is possible.