What Are The 5 Most Addictive Pain Medications?

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January 16, 2018

Good pain management has always been a goal of hospitals and doctors. Advancements in medicine have allowed physicians to release patients hospitals earlier and manage their pain levels from the comfort of their homes. However, an effect of prescribing powerful drugs that relieve pain has led to an increase in addictive behaviors. The strongest pain medications are made up of opioids, which can be highly addictive. Someone may start off taking them as prescribed, while others take them recreationally from the start. Either route can lead to addiction and may easily lead to an overdose or death. It is wise for families to know what it looks like when someone abuses prescription pain relievers so they can get that person help as soon as possible. Below is a list of five medications that are some of the most addictive painkillers on the market today. Most are usually prescribed for the treatment of chronic pain. Please note, this is not a complete list, and many more addictive painkillers and other prescription medications are available. If you want to know about whether a medication has a risk for dependency, talk to your physician or pharmacist.


Fentanyl is one of the strongest opioid drugs on the market. It is not a long-lasting drug so it is often used for surgery recovery and for breakthrough pain—meaning that when a person is already taking an opioid but has temporary pain that breaks through the opioid barrier, they may be given fentanyl. Time-release formulations for fentanyl provide strong pain relief over time. They come in two forms—a lollipop and a patch. Fentanyl also comes as a small piece of film that can be dissolved under the tongue and a pill meant to be lodged inside the cheek. In hospital settings, fentanyl can be injected. For the individual abusing the drug outside of a hospital, this is highly dangerous, as the difference between a therapeutic dose and a deadly dose is very small. As with any opioid, the main symptoms of fentanyl abuse are euphoria, drowsiness, lethargy, mellowness and pinpoint pupils. Building a tolerance to Fentanyl can happen very quickly, so a dose that is adequate for the intended high one week will probably not create that intended high even a few days later.


Oxycodone is a strong prescription painkiller and is specifically formulated to release pain medication into the body over a period of up to 12 hours. This medication was formulated to help patients with severe, long-lasting pain. The Food and Drug Administration recently specified that strong painkillers like oxycodone should only be used for serious and severe pain such as cancer treatment. The benefit of the medication, for people who suffer otherwise unmanageable chronic pain, is that the pain relief lasts for a longer period of time, making it easier for these individuals to function as normally as possible and participate in daily activities. This also means that these individuals do not have to take pain medication every 4-6 hours and can focus on having a normal daily routine. The downside is that it is one of the most addictive pain medications out there. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there were 53 million oxycodone prescriptions filled by US pharmacies in 2013. While many of those prescriptions were for legitimate medical use, a large number are diverted onto the black market for sale as recreational opioid drugs. Some brand names of oxycodone you may have heard of include Oxycontin®, Roxicodone®, and Xtampza ER®.


Percocet® is the brand name for a painkiller containing both oxycodone and acetaminophen. It’s a controlled substance, available by prescription only, and can be formulated in a variety of strengths.  These addictive pills are commonly prescribed for moderate to severe pain. Percocet® is typically given at first to combat pain but can quickly become habit forming. When abused, Percocet® can produce a sense of wellbeing, euphoria, and pleasure. This is because the drug influences regions of the brain involved in reward and pleasure. Percocet® can work in the body in the same manner as illegal opioids such as heroin. As with most opioids, tolerance to Percocet® forms quickly, causing people to take increasingly higher doses of the drug to feel the same effects once experienced with lower doses. With continued use, physical dependence also forms quickly, rapidly leading to full-blown addiction.


A Hydrocodone and acetaminophen combination is commonly used to relieve moderate to moderately severe pain. Acetaminophen is used to relieve pain and reduce fever in patients. It does not become habit-forming when taken for a long time. But acetaminophen may cause other unwanted effects when taken in large doses, including liver damage. The most common name for the combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen is Vicodin®.  While often classified as less harmful or abused than OxyContin®  or Percocet®, new stronger, potent versions of the drug are now hitting the market. Vicodin® is the most frequently prescribed opiate in the country. In 2010, there were more than 139 million prescriptions for this drug filled. With relatively easy access to Vicodin®, the medication abuse rate has almost quadrupled within the past 10 years. As with all other prescription pain medication, taking Vicodin® typically begins with the best of intentions and is used to combat pain after an accident, injury or surgery.  Individuals soon discover that not only does the Vicodin® relieve pain, but also provides a euphoric effect that makes them feel good all over. Soon, the pain is gone, but the pull of that euphoria remains. The individual will continue to use Vicodin® to get high and very soon thereafter it becomes a habit forming drug that is very difficult to get away from.


The generic name for Demerol is meperidine. Demerol is taken orally as a pill or in an injectable solution. It helps relieve pain and the side effects of this pain medicine include seizures, wheezing, rashes and hallucinations. As with all of the other pain medications listed above, Demerol is typically prescribed to combat pain but can easily become addicting. Often used in labor during childbirth, Demerol is also prescribed to manage pain from accidents, heart attacks, severe accidents, and other medical conditions such as cancer. Some abuse Demerol to escape a troubling situation, to numb emotional pain, or to cope with extraordinary stressors. When used in an uncontrolled setting, Demerol can be highly addictive and individuals may take more and more of the drug to achieve greater feelings of pleasure. Many individuals abuse Demerol for the high it causes. However, the longer an individual abuses Demerol, the more likely it is that their body will become physically and psychologically dependent upon the drug, which can lead to intense withdrawal symptoms if drug use is ceased. If you or someone you care about is experiencing an addiction to any type of pain medication, the best thing you can do is try and seek help. Treatment for addiction is available and accessible no matter where you live.