It may be tempting for you or your loved one to prescribe opioids for treatment of chronic pain. But doing that can actually do more damage than good. Prescription painkillers can be riddled with complications. Objective outcome measures, risk-assignment calculators, alternative treatments, and other tools that doctors can use effectively to help balanced the risks and rewards of prescription opioids.
Although medications are powerful pain relievers, they can become habit forming over time. This is why many doctors and pharmacists warn patients to go along with the prescription of opioids only when it is absolutely necessary. Doctors also remind patients about the danger of addiction as well as how taking opioids can worsen existing conditions. The most common sign that someone is addicted to prescription pain killers is when they will suddenly go missing for no apparent reason.
In an effort to combat this problem, a growing number of doctors are recommending “pain management” strategies including the use of prescription opioids alongside additional non-narcotic pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These non-narcotic pain relievers work by reducing the level of active opioids in the body. For example, instead of taking two different dosages of aspirin, doctors often recommend that a patient take a single dose of a non-narcotic pain reliever that produces minimal side effects and that contains ingredients that have been shown to decrease the likelihood of opioid addiction.
Another added benefit to encouraging patients and families to consider opioids for treatment is the fact that patients can significantly reduce their risk of developing an addiction by using other forms of therapy such as counseling and support groups. This reduces the risk that the medication itself will become a regular part of their lives, which makes it easier for them to return to a healthy lifestyle and avoid the serious complications that can arise from the continued use of prescription opioids. In some cases, prescribing opioids can even help patients avoid becoming addicted to other drugs such as alcohol, prescription stimulants, cocaine, heroin, or marijuana.
While doctors have recognized the benefits of opioids for treatment, they recognize that sometimes, it may not be possible to treat certain ailments without the use of these medications. For these cases, there are a variety of alternatives available. One such alternative is called medication diversion, which occurs when a person with a serious pain condition suddenly stops taking the medication that was originally prescribed to treat their pain. Other symptoms that could suggest medication diversion include: tolerance for the pain, an increase in both weight and frequency of urination, and the presence of additional symptoms that do not relate to the original pain issue. It is important to remember that medication diversion can result in severe and even life-threatening consequences.
When these medications are misused, it is not uncommon for patients to become addicted. The most common method of recreational prescription opioid use is ingesting them on a daily basis. In fact, studies have shown that patients who consume a few doses of prescription pain killers every day are likely to develop an opiate addiction over time. Even chronic, long-term users of these medications experience physical dependency, as they require doses of these medications to alleviate certain physical pains and feelings. If patients continue to use these medications despite the associated risks, it is possible they could develop an even more serious physical dependence.
Prescription opioids are generally very safe when used as directed and prescribed by a doctor. However, there is always the chance of misuse when inappropriate doses are provided or when they are used in combination with other substances. For this reason, medication providers are required to provide patients with detailed information about the risks of their medications and how to avoid an addiction to them. They also must provide patients instruction and counseling in how to use their medications safely. Many physicians will recommend avoiding prescription opioids if a patient has a history of addiction to pain killers or has suffered from depression or another mental health condition. However, in general, patients can be assured that using opioids for chronic non-traumatic pain poses little to no risk.
Opioid medications can be very useful when used properly. Patients should discuss any concerns they have with their physician and should follow his or her recommendations. If there is a desire to try a less powerful type of pain relief, patients should inform their physician. This will allow the physician to prescribe a safer form of the drug. In addition, patients can pursue other forms of treatment such as physical therapy or acupuncture. However, when opioids are prescribed by a physician, patients should always read the full instructions carefully before beginning any treatment.