The pain that doesn’t go away is beyond frustrating. It can be harmful and harmful to health. It can prevent you from sleeping well, eating properly, and exercising. It also can affect your mood and work, and it can prevent you from spending time with your friends and family. If you’re one of the 100 million long-term pain Americans, also referred to as chronic pain, you know how frustrating and debilitating that can be.
Every year, millions of prescriptions are prescribed for pain relievers, many of them powerful opioids that can cause addiction and other side effects. But there are many other pain treatments available in place of opioids.
Opioids are strong pain relievers. If you have serious short-term (acute) pain after surgery or if you have a broken bone, they will help. If you have a disease like cancer, they will also help you control pain. If you have cancer, you should speak with a doctor who specializes in pain relievers, such as a medical anesthesiologist, about which opioid or alternative treatment is best for you.
Opioids are effective drugs, but usually, they are not the safest way for treating long-term (chronic) pains, such as arthritis, low back pain, or regular headaches. If you take opioids to manage your chronic pain for a long time, you might be at risk of becoming addicted. Before you take opioids for chronic pain you can explore other treatments with your doctor. This is why:
Opioids have serious side effects and risks.
Your body gets used to the opioids over time, and they may also stop delivering pain relief. You can need to take more and more, to get the same relief. Higher doses can lead to severe side effects including:
- Breathing problems and slow heart rate, which can be fatal
- Confusion and mental disorders, such as a bad mood or temper outbursts
Opioids can also be highly addictive.
Up to one in four people are addicted to taking long-term opioids. Worst of all, statistics in 2017 found that 115 Americans die from an overdose of opioid pain relievers every day, with hundreds more rushing to the emergency room.
Other pain treatments may work better and are less risky than opioids.
Speak to your doctor about trying these opioid treatments:
Over the counter drugs:
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic)
- Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, and generic)
- Naproxen (Aleve and generic)
- Exercise, physical therapy, and/or massage
- “Cold” therapy, known as cryotherapy
- Steroid injections
- Radiofrequency ablation (use of heat to attack certain nerves)
- Neuromodulation (nerve stimulation)
Other prescription drugs (ask about risks and side effects):
- Anticonvulsant medications
These services will be provided by most insurance companies and Medicare and you can consult with your provider.
What will you do if you have your doctor prescribing opioids?
Discuss with your doctor about side effects, risks, and addiction, and be sure to keep an eye on them as well. Things to watch out for include unusual moodiness or cranky outbursts, unusual cravings, and risks. Take your medicine as prescribed by your doctor and be sure to store and dispose of your opioids carefully:
- Take your opioids exactly as your doctor prescribed and never share them with anyone else.
- Store your medicines in a place where children or others cannot access them.
- Safely disposing of your obsolete, unwanted, and unused drugs. The fastest way to get this handled is by local return services and prescription boxes (located at police stations, collection points of the Law Enforcement Department, or pharmacies) or “mail-back” schemes.
Ask your doctor about naloxone
Naloxone is a rescue opioid overdose drug that has saved thousands of lives. It is an injection or nasal spray used for the treatment of an opioid overdose. Anyone experiencing an overdose should be administering naloxone as soon as possible to safely restore normal breathing. Overdoses of opioids are typically accidental but can happen to anyone. If your doctor prescribes opioids for you, ask if you should also get a prescription for naloxone.