Pain Management and Opioid Safety with TRICARE


Feeling physical pain is part of being human. That pain can sometimes impact our daily lives. But the medications meant to treat pain can cause additional problems if used improperly. Read more about pain management and opioid safety, and learn how your TRICARE benefit can support you on your road to recovery.

How is pain categorized?

Pain can be either acute or chronic. Injury, illness, or surgery can cause acute pain. Acute pain is usually sudden and ends in a few weeks or months. You may be encouraged to stay active and gradually return to normal activities.

Chronic pain generally continues for three months or more. It’s often due to increased nerve sensitivity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that about 50 million adults in the U.S. feel chronic pain.

What is pain management?

Pain management means getting the right treatment for your pain. Pain can affect your mood and stress levels, but it’s possible to retrain the brain. There are many ways to manage pain without medicine. Some examples include physical therapy, massage, yoga, cognitive behavioral therapy, and proper diet and exercise.

What do opioids have to do with pain?

Opioids are a class of controlled drugs that relax your body. Your provider may prescribe a specific amount of opioid medicine for a limited amount of time to help you with your pain.

How can I safely take opioids?

Opioids can be highly addictive. Overdoses and death can happen if taken improperly. According to the CDC, drug overdose deaths continue to increase in the U.S. In 2017, more than 70,000 people died from drug overdoses. Nearly 68% of those deaths involved a prescription or non-prescription opioid.

First, you can talk to your doctor about how to manage your pain without prescription opioids. Other drug options may work better and pose fewer side effects and risk.

Army Lt. Col. Lori Whitney, chair for the Defense Health Agency’s Pain Management Clinical Support Service, recommends working with your provider to identify what will be most effective in treating your pain and providing relief. Then you can work together to create a plan.

“Be sure to let your doctor know what other medications you take,” Whitney said. “Always take the medication according to the directions, and never take extra doses. For the safest care while taking opioids, stay in the care of one provider.” 

If you’ve been taking opioids for more than a few weeks, don’t stop taking them without talking to your provider. They can help you stop taking these medications safely and comfortably.

What is naloxone?

Naloxone is an opioid overdose antidote or rescue drug. If you’re taking prescription opioids, it’s important to have naloxone on hand in case you experience an accidental overdose. You can get naloxone without a prescription from a pharmacy in 48 states, and in the District of Columbia. Talk to a doctor if you’re in Hawaii and Wyoming. In those two states, you’ll need a prescription. Recognizing an opioid overdose can be hard. Call 911 or your local emergency number, or seek medical care if you aren’t sure. Learn more about naloxone in this Military Health System article.

If you’re struggling with addiction, TRICARE covers effective treatment options for substance use disorders. Opioid treatment programs can include medication assisted treatment, integrated with psychosocial and medical treatment. Take command of your health, and learn more about pain management, opioid safety, and TRICARE covered services.

At the time of posting, this information is current. For the most recent information, contact your TRICARE contractor or local military hospital or clinic.

Last Updated 10/14/2021