Have you ever heard of opiate pain pills? This type of pain management solution is prescribed to millions of patients across the US every year, yet in the end, it’s becoming more of a problem for our nation than a solution. There are multiple side effects—including addiction and tolerance.
It can seem appealing to those with chronic pain to simply take a pill to make the pain go away. But the problem is that eventually, opioids can take a toll on the body. Chronic opiate therapy is a bad idea—and pain management centers across the nation are trying to offer alternatives.
The Opiate Problem
An opioid is defined as “a class of drugs that…are chemically related and interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain.” Illegally, opioids can be found in the form of the street drug heroin, while legally, opioids are known as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and others. In the short term, opioids are effective and relatively harmless for pain relief. However, opioids tend to produce euphoria alongside pain relief. This aspect of the drugs makes them addictive.
As such, there is an opioid crisis on our hands in this nation. People enjoy not only feeling pain relief, but they like feeling good (the obvious result of euphoria). Many patients who are prescribed opioids in the short term, such as to bring pain relief after a surgery, get hooked on that euphoria and find excuses for being prescribed more. The results have been devastating—in 2014, over 28,000 US residents died after an opioid overdose. The US Department of Health and Human Services has been developing programs to help opioid addicts recover, such as substance abuse treatment centers, mental health counseling, and bringing awareness of the problem to the mainstream.
The Dangers of Chronic Opiate Therapy
While it may make sense to take opioids after a surgery or to help recover after a sports injury, it doesn’t make as much sense to use them to treat chronic pain. Although researchers have found that opioids are effective for treating chronic pain, the side effect of addiction is too high a risk to take.
When considering a treatment for chronic pain, you must take into account that you are talking about a long-term pain solution. This is because the nature of chronic pain is that it lasts longer than three months, and for many sufferers, will never completely go away. If you choose an opiate to treat this pain, you are exposing yourself to the possibility of dependence and even drug resistance, requiring higher and higher does to achieve the same results. The higher the dose, the higher your risk of overdose and death. Dr. Jenny Andrus of Orthopaedic & Spine Center explains:
Ultimately, opiate therapy should not be considered at first when looking at chronic pain solutions. If this is the case, then what else can we use?
What’s a better option?
There are many other ways to treat chronic pain. At pain management centers, you will find a long list of treatment options, most of them medication free. For example, you might find relief from the following treatments:
- Dietary changes
- Guided imagery
- Lifestyle changes
- Spinal cord stimulation
While most pain management centers tend to combine alternative therapies with some form of medication, most patients are supplied with a multi-disciplinary pain program. Such programs aim to find the combination that works best for the patient. So what works better than opiate therapy for chronic pain? Many things!
For instance, you might find that guided imagery, which teaches you to focus on images that relax you when you start to feel pain, combined with a stretching routine and massage, can turn off the pain signals in your brain. You can also take a more drastic approach by getting a nerve block, which is an injection of numbing medication directly to a nerve.
People with spinal cord pain may benefit immensely from a spinal cord stimulation device, which sends an electric signal to interrupt the pain signals sent by different nerves. Sometimes if the pain is isolated to the musculoskeletal system, a combination of spinal manipulation (chiropractic), acupressure, massage, and stretching may be enough to manage the pain. The point is that there are many alternatives to opiate therapy.
What do you use for chronic pain relief?
In the end, you must do what is best for your body. Sometimes it can be a long journey to discover what treatment options will solve your chronic pain and allow you to live a full life. But ultimately, those options should not involve opiates, at least as much as can be helped.