June 20, 2022
Q: I’m in recovery from opioid addiction. Can I still use pain medication?
A: I recently found myself grappling with this very question. I had pain medication abuse issues for 20 years before successfully reaching recovery in 2008. In 2021, the very back injury that exposed me to pain medication in the first place advanced to the point where I was in extreme pain 24/7 and required surgery.
First things first, I am not a doctor. However, I have developed a close relationship with my primary care physician. It’s probably the first totally honest relationship I’ve had with a doctor and it’s made all the difference in the world. As a patient, I’ve found that doctors do their best work when they get honest and accurate information from their patients. My doctor knows about my former addiction, my past drug-seeking behavior, past injuries, diagnosed mental health issues and everything else. Building that kind of honest relationship with your physician is critical to your health now and in the future. We are now partners with the shared goal of keeping me as healthy as possible.
Armed with all the details, my doctor recommended not only a surgeon, but also pain management specialists. There I learned a great deal of honest and accurate information. I learned about the different kinds of pain, possible interaction issues with other prescribed medications, what I could expect leading up to the surgery and what I could face after surgery during my convalescence. If you have access to such specialists, I highly recommend you seek their insights.
I had to wait several months for surgery because of the backlog caused by COVID-19. During that time, my pain was so severe I had to visit the emergency room four times. Again, I was 100% open with the ER staff. Once they understood I was being honest and not just seeking opioids for abuse, they safely used different pain medications and therapies to help get me to surgery. It was the honesty with my health care providers that resulted in the best results. We worked together every step of the way. I got the pain relief I needed, as well as the accountability I needed to make sure I stayed within the doctor’s orders the entire way.
When it came time to end the opiate pain meds, I was the one who made the decision. I worked with my doctor and planned a safe, effective protocol which weaned me off of the drugs and back into my regular life in recovery.
Not only did I receive effective care, I was also very proud of myself for using pain medications responsibly for the first time in my life. But it took honesty, patience, responsible behavior and complete cooperation with my doctor to get the help I need without creating new problems.
So my answer to your question: It’s absolutely possible for you to responsibly use medication for pain if you’re in recovery. Become an honest and open partner with your physicians, follow their direction and as always take it one day at a time.