Pain management has become a touchy subject lately—and for good reason.
Almost 5 percent of the U.S. population misuses opioids, according to a recently released report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The report goes on to say that between 21 and 29 percent of people who are prescribed opioids for pain misuse them and between 8 and 10 percent go on to develop an opioid use disorder.
Those are devastating statistics, to be sure, but this one is even worse: The opioid crisis claims some 115 American lives every day.
And the solution is not so simple. Millions of people live with chronic pain—and need prescription painkillers to function. If you have concerns, you’re not alone. Here are a few of the questions patients frequently ask their doctors.
Q. What are opioid painkillers?
A. Over-the-counter drugs are not opioids. A few common brand names include Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, Morphine and Codeine.
Q. Why did we never hear about prescription painkillers being a problem 30 years ago?
A. In the late 1990s, drug pharmaceutical companies took steps to reassure the doctors that their prescription painkillers were safe and unlikely to lead to addiction. Healthcare providers listened—and began to prescribe drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin at greater rates.
Q. What options do I have for chronic pain other than opioid painkillers?
A. There are many options, including acupuncture, biofeedback therapy and even over-the-counter pain relief (one study showed that acetaminophen and ibuprofen taken together was actually more effective in treating some types of pain than opioids.)
Q. What can I do to avoid becoming addicted to opioid painkillers?
A. It’s critical that you take your medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor. If you’re told to take one pill every four hours, then take one pill every four hours. Don’t “save” pills so that you can take more later. Don’t crush pills. Don’t get extra pills from well-meaning friends or relatives who offer them.
Q. What should I do if I have leftover pills?
A. Dispose of them immediately. Keeping them “just in case” you need them at a later date, opens up the possibility that someone else in your house (or even you) will use them when you don’t really need them. And experts warn that you’re more likely to notice the euphoric effects of opioids when you’re not experiencing pain which could open the door to abuse. Here are the FDA guidelines on how to properly dispose of leftover medications.
Q. Are tolerance and addiction the same thing?
A. No, someone suffering from chronic pain can become tolerant to painkillers, meaning they need to increase their dosage to get relief. True addiction, however, occurs when you organize your life around a particular substance—and keep taking it despite negative consequences.
If you’re suffering from pain, it may be true that opioid painkillers are the right solution for you. But there are also many other medications, therapies and treatments that might be a better option. The one thing you don’t want to do? Ignore pain. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our pain management specialists.