Do I need Rehab to Quit Oxycontin for Chronic Pain?

  • Medical Author:
    Standiford Helm II, MD

    Dr. Helm has been practicing interventional pain management since 1982. Dr. Helm is a diplomate of the American Board of Anesthesiology with subspecialty certification in Pain Medicine and of the American Board of Pain Medicine. Dr. Helm is a Fellow of Interventional Pain Practice (FIPP), the only certifying agency which tests the ability to perform interventional pain procedures. Dr. Helm is also an examiner for FIPP.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Ask the experts

I use OxyContin on a regular basis for 2-3 years now for chronic pain. Am I at a higher risk of difficulty coming off of the meds, and possibly need rehab to discontinue them?

Doctor's response

Prolonged, appropriate, use of any opioid, including OxyContin, for a legitimate medical purpose can lead to a situation where you might undergo withdrawal if you stop the medication. This situation should not be considered "addiction." It is a normal response to the use of the medication. There are many medications we use which should be tapered off (slowly discontinued) when no longer required. For example, if you are on steroids, certain high blood pressure medicines, or anti-seizure medications; these drug dosages should be slowly reduced (tapered) rather than abruptly discontinuing the drug. This is a medical issue and should be handled by your prescribing doctor. In like manner, tapering off of your OxyContin is a medical issue and should be handled by your doctor in case you do have any withdrawal symptoms.

There are many ways to wean off of medications. Generally, if you have time, gradually lowering the dosage of the drugs is the easiest. Rehabilitation centers tend to focus on people who are taking the medication because they have a craving for the opioids, where they give up social activities because of the opioid use and center their life around getting the drugs — rehabilitation centers focus on people who are addicted. As a rule, people who are taking the opioids for a medical reason don't need to go to rehabilitation centers to get off the opioids. If they do, it is because they find the withdrawal symptoms to be a problem rather than that they need the support to control any desire to keep taking the medications.

Medically reviewed by John A. Daller, MD; American Board of Surgery with subspecialty certification in surgical critical care


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Reviewed on 9/15/2017