Asking Your Healthcare Provider for Stronger Painkillers

Can you ask your healthcare provider for stronger painkillers if you need them? Absolutely, as it is crucial that you are an active participant in your pain management.

Chronic pain, most simply defined, is pain that continues when it should not. One of the key components of managing chronic pain is finding the right painkiller.

Young man in pain getting prescription from doctor
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Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Pain

According to the American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA), the best approach to managing pain is for a person to discuss carefully with his or her healthcare provider the potential risks versus benefits of a new medication (or other treatment). In other words, be proactive in your pain health, and be open and candid with your healthcare provider about your pain.

If you think you may need an additional, stronger, or different painkiller, ask yourself these four questions. If you answer “yes” to any of them, you likely do.

  • Do you frequently have breakthrough pain?
  • Is your current medication becoming less effective at controlling your pain?
  • Is your daily routine getting harder?
  • Is your quality of life decreasing?

Know Your Options

Before you ask for stronger medication, it is a good idea to learn about your options. In general, four classes of medications are used to treat chronic pain:

  • Non-Opioids: These include aspirin, NSAIDs, and acetaminophen.
  • Opioids: Also referred to as narcotics, these include morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and methadone. The medication Tramadol works on the opioid receptors, although it is not an opioid.
  • Adjuvant Analgesics. These medications were originally used to treat other conditions, but they're now sometimes also used in pain relief. Examples include certain antidepressants and anticonvulsants.
  • Other: Other medications that don't directly relieve pain, such as drugs to ease insomnia, anxiety, depression, and muscle spasms, may be part of your pain management regimen.

Additional pain-easing options that do not come in "pill" form may include injections, patches, or even surgery.

There are also non-medication options that in combination with a painkiller (or potentially alone) can help a person best manage their pain and function fully in life. These often include practicing relaxation strategies, mindfulness meditation, stretching, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and exercise programs like yoga or tai chi.

Will You Look Like an Addict?

While it's true that opioid painkillers are one of the most commonly abused prescription drugs, asking for them does not necessarily target you as an addict.

Some people with chronic pain conditions simply cannot manage their pain with other types of medications. The attitudes toward the role of opioids in pain management are also changing.

Most healthcare providers will consider the benefits of a stronger painkiller versus the potential risks. Stronger painkillers like opioids carry a higher risk of tolerance and abuse, but if they could possibly increase your quality of life, they may be worth a try.

Studies show that with careful monitoring, addiction and abuse are not usually issues for people with legitimate chronic pain conditions.

A Word From Verywell

Remember, for the best outcomes, your healthcare provider needs to follow up with your treatment regularly. In other words, medical supervision is key when you are managing your chronic pain. Tapering off or escalating up a medication can be uncomfortable and even dangerous, so it's extremely important this is done under the guidance of your healthcare provider.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bauer BA, Tilburt JC, Sood A, Li GX, Wang SH. Complementary and alternative medicine therapies for chronic pain. Chin J Integr Med. 2016;22(6):403-11. doi:10.1007/s11655-016-2258-y

  2. Stein C. Opioid Receptors. Annu Rev Med. 2016;67:433-51. doi:10.1146/annurev-med-062613-093100

Additional Reading
  • American Chronic Pain Association. APCA Resource Guide to Pain Medication and Treatment: 2016 Edition.
  • Blake S,  Ruel B, Seamark C, Seamark D. Experiences of patients requiring strong opioid drugs for chronic non-cancer pain: A patient-initiated study. British Journal of General Practice. 2007 February 1; 57(535): 101–8.
  • Chou R. et al. Clinical guidelines for the use of chronic opioid therapy in chronic noncancer pain. The Journal of Pain. February 2009. Volume 10, Issue 2. Pages 113-130.e22.
  • Hariharan J, Lamb GC, Neuner JM. Long-term opioid contract use for chronic pain management in primary care practice. A five-year experience. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 2007 April; 22(4): 485–90.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2015). Trends & Statistics.

By Erica Jacques
Erica Jacques, OT, is a board-certified occupational therapist at a level one trauma center.