Drugs designed to relieve pain. Analgesics, which are often used to manage pain in people with arthritis, are generally classified as either narcotic or nonnarcotic. The best known nonnarcotic analgesic is acetaminophen (brand names include Tylenol). The American College of Rheumatology recommends acetaminophen as the initial treatment of osteoarthritis (OA). Because they don’t control inflammation, however, acetaminophen and other analgesics may not relieve pain effectively when inflammation is involved. In this case, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids may be used instead.

Narcotic analgesics, such as morphine (MS Contin), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), and hydrocodone (Vicodin), are sometimes used to treat chronic pain when the pain is severe and doesn’t respond adequately to other medicines. They are generally regarded as a measure of last resort. In the past, doctors have been very reluctant to prescribe narcotics to people with chronic pain because of concerns about addiction. However, doctors have come to realize that the risk of addiction is quite low if the drug is properly prescribed and used as directed and the person has no history of substance abuse.

Find out more tips on how to take medication safely here.

Robert S. Dinsmoor is a medical writer and editor based in Massachusetts.

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