Ways of taking medicines

Pain medicines are taken in several ways, depending on the type of medicine and the form that it is available in.

  • Liquid  This may be an option if you have trouble swallowing tablets or for convenience.
  • Lozenge – This is sucked on the inside of your cheeks and gums until it dissolves.
  • Injection – A needle is inserted either into a vein (intravenously), into a muscle (intramuscularly) or under the skin (subcutaneously).
  • Skin patch – This is stuck on your skin and gradually releases medicine into the body. The patch only needs to be changed every few days.
  • Subcutaneous infusion – Medicine is slowly injected under the skin using a small plastic tube and a small portable pump called a syringe driver. This can take many hours or days.
  • Intravenous infusion – Medicine is slowly injected into a vein using a small plastic tube and pump over many hours or days. The pump has a button that you press to release a set dose of medicine. This is called patient-controlled analgesia (PCA). It is used in hospitals under the supervision of a pain specialist.
  • Intrathecal injection or infusion – Liquid medicine that is delivered into the fluid surrounding the spinal cord. It is commonly used to treat the most severe cancer pain.
  • Suppository – A pellet is placed in the rectum, which dissolves and is absorbed by the body. This may be suitable for someone who has nausea or trouble swallowing.

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Using medicines safely

Let your doctor, nurse or pharmacist know if you’re taking any other medicines at the same time as your pain relief. This includes all prescription and non-prescription medicines, vitamins, herbs and other supplements.

Different medicines may react with each other, stop a medicine from working properly in the body, or cause dangerous side effects. Some effects to keep in mind include:

  • Many pills for colds and flu, and other over-the-counter medicines, can be taken with analgesics without any harmful effects. However, some over-the-counter medicines, such as paracetamol and anti-inflammatories, contain pain-killers, so a lower dose of pain medicine may be needed.
  • Medicines for colds, menstrual (period) pain, headaches and joint or muscle aches often contain a mixture of drugs, including aspirin. People receiving chemotherapy should avoid aspirin because it increases the risk of internal bleeding. Any minor cuts are likely to bleed a lot and take longer to stop bleeding (clot).
  • Over-the-counter medicines for allergies may cause drowsiness, as can some pain medicines. Taking them together can make it dangerous to drive or to operate machinery.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) collects information about medicines and medical devices that haven’t worked well. You can search the Database of Adverse Event Notifications (DAEN) at tga.gov.au/database-adverse-event-notifications-daen

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Tips for using medicines safely

  • Ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist for written information about your pain medicines: what they are for, when and how to take them, possible side effects and how to manage them, and any possible interactions with other medicines, vitamins or herbal remedies.
  • Follow directions and ask questions if you need more information.
  • Keep medicines in their original packaging so you and other people always know what they’re for.
  • Store medicines in a safe place that is out of reach of children.
  • Remind yourself when to take your medicines by writing a note, setting an alarm or programming a reminder on your phone. This is safer than leaving your pills out
  • Let your health care team know of any side effects.
  • Regularly check the expiry dates of medicines. If they are near or past their expiry, see your doctor for a new prescription.
  • Take medicines that have expired or are no longer needed to the pharmacy to dispose of them safely.
  • Check with your health care team whether it is safe to take any complementary therapies, such as nutritional supplements, together with your pain medicine.
  • Find out more about your medicines by calling the National Prescribing Service (known as NPS MedicineWise) Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424).
  • Call the Adverse Medicine Events Line on 1300 134 237, and tell your health care team immediately if you suspect you’ve had a reaction to any kind of medicine. If you need urgent assistance, call 000.
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Travelling with medicines

It’s possible to take prescription medicines overseas for your own personal use, but it’s best to follow a few guidelines.

  • Ask your doctor if you need to change your medicine schedule to account for time differences.
  • Make sure you have enough medicines to cover the whole time you’re away, and pack a few extra doses in case you are delayed for any reason.
  • Check with the embassies of the countries you’re visiting to make sure your medicine is legal there.
  • Carry a letter from your doctor or pharmacist outlining what the medicine is, and how much you’ll be taking, and stating that the medicine is for your personal use.
  • Keep medicines in their original packaging so they can be easily identified, and make sure the name on the medicines matches the name on the passport.
  • Ask your doctor if there are limits on the amount of medicines you can take overseas – check online for different countries.
  • Have any medicines you need ready for inspection at the airport. Liquid medicines are exempt from liquid restrictions, as are any icepacks or gel-filled heat packs that are needed to control the temperature of the medicines onboard the flight.
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This information was last reviewed in September 2015
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