Recent Blog Articles

Harvard Health Blog

Painkillers and drug addiction: An ongoing dilemma

October 27, 2010
  • By Ann MacDonald, Contributor

About the Author

photo of Ann MacDonald

Ann MacDonald, Contributor

Ann MacDonald was the editor of the Harvard Mental Health Letter from October 2007 to January 2012. She has also written several editions of the Harvard Medical School Annual Report on Prostate Disease. Before working at … See Full Bio
View all posts by Ann MacDonald


As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles.

No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.


August 22, 2011

there are so many pain clinics across USA- even those anesthesia trained specialist who do only procedural pain management “for big money” indiscriminately prescribe pain killers- creating many addicts – partly it is also the fault of the patient – lot to be reformed there, its a very nicely done article,Thanks.
[URL removed by moderator]

Jeremy Fished
May 29, 2011

Wow, thank you for the article. I’ve found that prescriptions given out like candy to pain patients, giving them access to drugs like oxycontin and such are so amazingly rampant in the u.s. and canada. There’s a national epidemic of addiction to prescription painkillers containing drugs that are essentially the same as heroin and just as addictive. Even more so, places that sell the drugs illegally without RX’s like need to be shut down by the DEA because it gives people even under-age that are proned to abusing the drugs for recreational uses more of an opportunity to acquire the heroin like drugs shipped to their doors. These sources need to be investigated and shut down immediately. The dea needs to crack down on this asap.

What we also need is very heavy media coverage and prominent sites like this to address the issue and bring it to light. It is very serious and I appreciate the work you are doing in regards to the pertinent issue.

Thank you for your time taken to post this and the effort you are making. It DOES make a difference.

Iris G.
May 7, 2011

I was once a painkiller abuser years ago, because of the menstrual pain and headache made me live in the hell every month since I ever have the menarche. But its side effects hurt me badly and forced me to looking for an alternative. Luckily I’ve found it — it’s the Maha Meditation technique, which works wonderfully in pain relief and chronic diseases relief.

Maha Meditation claims that it can “relieve or cure a diverse array of physical and mental diseases,” without using any pills or having any side effects. I’ve been practiced this technique for five years and it really works. [URL removed by moderator]

March 16, 2011

My father died from cancer a year ago, the doctors prescribed painkillers — hydrocodone and lortab — to help reduce your pain. In the last months of his life he printed some natural therapies but unfortunately found nothing. But we believe that some of the therapies reduced the growth of tumors and offered some relief from pain.

[URL removed by a moderator.]

March 3, 2011

My brother died from cancer late last year, he was heavily dependant on painkillers (oxycodone and morphine) to help reduce his suffering. In the last couple of months of his life he printed out many natural therapies from the internet but unfortunately nothing he tried worked to save him but we believe some of the therapies he tried did reduce some of the cancers growth and offered some pain relief, feel free to contact me as I have saved all the printed material he collected and I am happy to share it.

[URL removed by a moderator.]

Ann MacDonald
March 4, 2011

Dear Matthew,

I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your brother. My sympathies to you and your family.

I’m glad he did have access to pain relief to ease his suffering. As I mention in the blog post, there’s no question that narcotic pain relievers are absolutely appropriate for cancer pain and for care at the end of life.

The real problem, in terms of addiction, is when people use painkillers to get high or for other reasons–and become dependent on them.

Thanks for writing. I wish you the best,


Richard van den Ende
March 3, 2011

We have a Mental Health institution in Holland, on a population of 16 million people there are 1.8 million people addicted to alcohol and drugs(coke, cannabis and alcohol). This is a figure we can measure in Holland but the population who is addicted on medicines is much bigger

December 28, 2010

I take acetomephin and ibuprofen daily (well within the daily maximum allowable doses). However, I remain in pain all day every day. Some days are much worse than others.

The question I have is what are the potential negative impacts of using oxycodone pills two to four times a month when the pain is elevated? Or what are the potential negative impacts of taking hydrocodone on a daily basis – say one pill in the morning and one in the evening? Is it just the potential for addiction leading to taking more every day and the associated problems with addiction and withdrawal etc.?

I would appreciate a general response. Also, if there are more detailed summaries/research material, I would appreciate being pointed toward the information. (I am a researcher in a different field so am happy to peruse journal articles.) I have noted the two Solomon et al. (2010) articles from Archives of Internal Medicine that I will track down.

Obviously I’ll pose the same questions to my medical doctor and surgeon.

Thank you for you time.

Ann MacDonald
January 6, 2011

Dear Matt,

Thanks for writing. Unfortunately, we are not able to answer personal medical questions.

However, I would suggest you visit the following website, run by the National Pain Foundation, which has more general information about pain treatment.

All the best,


George P.
December 4, 2010

I have stage IV pancreatic cancer, does it really matter if I am addicted to painkillers (oxycodone and morphine)? I am going to die anyway and soon according to statistics.

Ann MacDonald
December 8, 2010

Hello George.

Thanks for writing – although obviously I wish you weren’t facing this health challenge. But the question you raise is one others are probably wondering about to, so I thought I’d take some time to answer. The pain treatment guidelines we consulted specifically stated that prescribing opioid painkillers for chronic pain caused by cancer or experienced at the end of life is both appropriate and humane. Of course, if you are concerned about pain or addiction (or those statistics), please talk with your doctor, who can help you identify the best options for your particular situation. Best wishes — Ann MacDonald

Professor Brian A. Rothbart
November 9, 2010

Another reason people are addicted to the opioid analgesics is that they are suffering from chronic debilitating muscle and joint pain, a condition that affects Americans than those currently suffering from cancer, heart disease and diabetes combined. Often these people try to obtain relief from their unbearable pain by taking narcotic painkillers. Unfortunately these narcotic drugs are addicting and only offer temporary relief.

A better approach would be to identify and eliminate the cause of the pain, which in turn, would eliminate the need for the narcotics in the first place.

Approximately ten years ago, I published on two previously unrecognized embryological foot structures that I linked to the development of chronic muscle and joint pain. Several of my published studies suggest that if these two foot structures (known as PMS and the PCD) are left untreated, they will result in debilitating, unrelenting musculoskeletal pain with advancing senescence.

Ann MacDonald
November 10, 2010

Thanks for bringing this up. One of our editorial board members made a similar point when he was reviewing a draft of our story on this topic. He stressed the need for a thorough diagnostic workup to determine the cause of pain.

Commenting has been closed for this post.

Free Healthbeat Signup

Get the latest in health news delivered to your inbox!

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Thanks for visiting. Don't miss your FREE gift.

The Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness, is yours absolutely FREE when you sign up to receive Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Sign up to get tips for living a healthy lifestyle, with ways to fight inflammation and improve cognitive health, plus the latest advances in preventative medicine, diet and exercise, pain relief, blood pressure and cholesterol management, and more.

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Health Alerts from Harvard Medical School

Get helpful tips and guidance for everything from fighting inflammation to finding the best diets for weight loss...from exercises to build a stronger core to advice on treating cataracts. PLUS, the latest news on medical advances and breakthroughs from Harvard Medical School experts.

BONUS! Sign up now and
get a FREE copy of the
Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness

Harvard Health Publishing Logo

Stay on top of latest health news from Harvard Medical School.

Plus, get a FREE copy of the Best Diets for Cognitive Fitness.