Pain Medications: What You Need to Know About Acetaminophen, Darvon, and Darvocet

Despite concerns, experts say it's possible to take the medications safely—at recommended doses.

Video: Home First Aid

Video: Home First Aid

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The advisory panel also voted for a ban on Vicodin and Percocet, stemming in part from a concern about the potential for abuse and many people's tendency to take more of these medications than recommended because of a mistaken assumption that consuming more of these drugs will provide better pain relief without an increased risk of adverse health effects. The panel encouraged banning the drugs in their current form, as combination opioid-acetaminophen products. "The advisory board was suggesting that they only be made available separately," meaning that hydrocodone and oxycodone should be sold only as single drugs, rather than in combination with acetaminophen, Fishman says. The FDA typically follows the recommendations of its advisory panel, though not always, as in the case of propoxyphene.

As an OTC alternative, aspirin, ibuprofen (found in Motrin and Advil, for example), and naproxen (found in Aleve) "can be quite effective in reducing pain and reducing inflammation," Christo says. But these drugs, in a class called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, or NSAIDs, carry their own risks. Stomach problems, including ulcerations and an increased bleeding risk, are concerns for those taking NSAIDs. For certain types of pain—in your back, neck, or legs, for example—complementary and alternative medicine treatments are also an option.