Opioids for Pain Relief

A doctor may prescribe an opioid pain medicine (also called a narcotic) for your child. This is a strong pain medicine. Although every parent wants their child to be as comfortable as possible, sometimes there are concerns about opioid pain medicines.

Are you concerned that your child will become addicted to their pain medication? Many parents wonder if taking an opioid pain medicine will cause addiction. It is important to know that addiction is rare for children who are in pain and who take pain medications to relieve their pain.

Common definitions

Listed below are some of the more common words that doctors and nurses use when talking about opioid pain medications.

Addiction

Addiction is when the person is focused on using the medication for the feeling they get in their head (sometimes called a “high”) from the pain medication, not for pain relief.

Physical dependence

Physical dependence is a normal body response that can occur with opioid medications and many other medicines. Even caffeine can cause physical dependence. Some signs of physical dependence are tremors, increased sweating, and hot and cold flashes. Physical dependence can occur after a few weeks or sometimes in a few days. Physical dependence is not the same thing as addiction.

If your child has been taking opioid medication for a long time, you may be told to slowly lower the dose of the pain medicine, or increase the time between doses. If you suddenly stopped giving your child the pain medication, your child could have withdrawal symptoms such as sweating. To prevent withdrawal, the pain medication dose is slowly lowered over a few days (and in some cases, a few weeks) so your child’s body can adjust to the lower dose.

Tolerance

Tolerance is when the pain medication does not relieve as much pain as it did when your child first started to take it. Although larger doses may be needed over a period of days or weeks to relieve the pain, the pain medicine will not stop working. You can help us by letting us know if you think the pain medicine is not working for your child. Your doctor will decide if your child needs a larger dose of pain medicine due to tolerance.

We will be working with you and watching your child’s pain medication needs to be sure the medicine is working for your child. It is important to let your healthcare provider know if you have any questions or concerns.

Contact us

For more information about the Pain Management Program at CHOP or to schedule an appointment, please call 215-590-1409.

Review Date: August 2012