How to use medicines

Here we look at how to effectively use your medicine.

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Take your medicines regularly

Taking your medicines as prescribed is the best way to control the pain. Some people call this “staying on top of the pain”. Doing this may mean you can use lower doses of pain relief than if you were to wait until the pain gets worse.

If you think your pain medicine isn’t working, it’s important to let your doctor know – they may need to adjust the dose or prescribe a different medicine.

Give your medicines time to work

Different pain medicines take different amounts of time to work. How long each one takes depends on whether the active ingredient is released slowly or immediately.

Slow release medicines – release the active ingredient continuously to provide pain control for 12–24 hours. They are used for constant pain and need to be taken as prescribed. This helps keep the amount of medicine in the blood high enough to be constant and effective. Also known as sustained release medicines.

Immediate release medicines – release the active ingredient quickly, usually in less than 30 minutes. They are used for occasional, temporary pain because they work fast but don’t last.

How quickly different medicines relieve pain also varies greatly from person to person. It depends on how much medicine you take (dose) and how often you take it (the frequency).

The different types of pain relief

To manage your pain effectively, you may be given a combination of prescription and non-prescription medicines. You may also want to try complementary therapies to improve your quality of life.

Prescription medicines – These are medicines that your doctor must authorise you to take and only a pharmacist can give you (dispense). Most prescription medicines have two names:

  • the generic name identifies the chemical compounds in the drug that make it work
  • the brand name is the manufacturer’s name for the medicine.

A medicine may have more than one brand name if it’s produced by different companies. For a list of generic and brand names of strong medicines, see Opioids.

Non-prescription medicines – These are available without a prescription, often from pharmacies and supermarkets, and include over-the-counter medicines such as mild painkillers and cold medicines. Vitamin supplements and herbal remedies are also considered non-prescription medicines.

Allied health servicesThese offer therapies, such as physiotherapy techniques, exercises and psychological therapies, to help people manage their pain.

Complementary therapiesThese are therapies that can be used alongside conventional medical treatments to improve your quality of life and wellbeing.

Keep track of medicines

There are different ways to help ensure you take the correct dose of medicine at the right time.

Medicine packs – You can ask your pharmacist to organise your tablets and capsules into a blister pack (e.g. Webster-pak) that sets out all the doses that need to be taken throughout the week, along with a description of each drug.

Medicines list – This records what you need to take, when to take it, how much to take and what each medicine is for. You can:

  • create your own list on paper or on a computer
  • order a printed list to keep in your wallet or handbag at NPS MedicineWise
  • download the MedicineWise app from the App Store or Google Play onto your smartphone. You can scan the barcode on packaging to add a medicine to the app and set up alarms for taking the medicine.

Discuss your pain medicines with family and friends

Family members, carers and friends sometimes have opinions about the pain relief you’re having. Your family members may feel anxious about your use of strong pain medicines. This may be because they are worried that you will become addicted (see Common questions about opioids).

Let your family know how the experience of pain affects you emotionally, and that keeping the pain under control allows you to remain comfortable and enjoy your time with them. You may want to ask your treatment team if they can explain to your family and carers why a particular medicine has been recommended for you.

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Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

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To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
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Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

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Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
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Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in September 2018
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