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Those in Pain Find Relief, Not Debilitation, With Daily Narcotics


April 1993

Chronic pain patients may take potent narcotics daily without developing the standard hallmarks of addiction such as loss of control over drug use, or compulsive and disruptive patterns of use, according to pain specialists interviewed for a front-page story in the New York Times (Elizabeth Rosenthal, "Patients In Pain Find Relief, Not Addiction, In Narcotics," New York Times, 3/28/93, p. 1).

Technically, pain patients become addicted to opiate drugs used daily to treat their pain in that they experience a physiological withdrawal syndrome upon cessation. But unlike recreational addicts, they do not escalate dosage or develop harmful patterns of use.

A major study of 10,000 burn patients who received narcotics as part of their hospital care found that none became addicts. Another study of 2000 headache patients who had regular access to narcotics found that only four became addicted. Despite such evidence, many physicians undermedicate pain out of fear of creating addiction, and many still stigmatize both prescribers and users of regular doses of narcotics.