The history of opioid medications has been rocky at best. Our nation has lost many young artists to opiate addictions, including Edgar Allen Poe and Janis Joplin. Today, versions of these narcotic drugs are prescribed in the United States for a variety of reasons but, at the same time, issues with addiction run rampant in our communities. Their use needs to be monitored closely and they should not be used for an extended period of time.

Opioids work because our bodies have receptors that can bind to the medication and reduce the pain signals that are being sent from damaged areas of the body. They are usually prescribed to treat pain that is unreceptive to other treatments. While the risk of addiction is the most common and concerning, there are other risks that individuals should be aware of before considering opioids as a treatment for their pain, especially if the pain is chronic in nature.

Risks of opioid use

In January of 2014, we took a closer look at these risks. They include:

  • Addiction: Both physical and mental addictions are a serious concern when it comes to the use of opioid medications. “Once you stop taking opiates, you may feel symptoms of withdrawal, including anxiety, nausea, and insomnia.
    […]Physical and mental addiction can devastate a person’s life as he or she forsakes responsibilities and commitments in favor of getting high off opiates.”
  • Health problems: Beyond addiction are other health problems that can cause long-term damage. “Opiate use has been linked to a variety of health issues, including constipation, sleep disorders, and fractures.”
  • Overdose and death: Of course, the ultimate price for the improper use of opioid medications is the risk of overdose and, subsequently, death. “People who frequently take opiates develop a tolerance for them, meaning they need to take ever-increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the same effect. When people stop taking the drugs, their tolerance drops again. If a patient with a lowered tolerance takes an amount of the drug they were accustomed to during a period of high tolerance, serious physical harm can happen, including overdose.”

The use and abuse of prescription medication is becoming a major issue for healthcare workers in our country. Right now the usage by state is astounding and many state governments are implementing programs to help individuals kick the habit and make healthier choices for their recovery and pain treatment. As we noted:

“In many cases, there is a chicken or the egg argument that can be made. In the South, for example, pain medications are prescribed at a rate of up to 143 prescriptions per 100 people. These states include Alabama, Tennessee, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. However, the bigger question might not be the prevalent use of painkillers by patients in these states, but rather the prevalence of pain.”

It is also extremely important to look at the ways that each state is approaching the overuse of opioid medications and rates of dependence and addiction. These changes include reclassifying some medications to indicate the high risk of addiction, databases for patients prescribed these medications, and limiting which conditions opioids are considered an appropriate treatment.

Preventing abuse through proper support and pain management

At Holistic Pain we want to help our patients find the right solutions for their individual needs and there are cases where opioid medications may be the best choice. Specifically, there may be beneficial uses of opioid medications as a short-term solution for pain management with acute injuries. However, the only way to ensure the safe use of opioid medications is to work with a specialist to help your monitor your experience and create a painkiller management plan.

In doing so, keep these simple tips in mind:

  1. Opioids cannot keep you pain or symptom free
  2. Utilize other treatments so you don’t rely entirely on these medications
  3. Talk to your doctor about other drugs you are taking
  4. Do not take any more than your doctor’s recommended dosage

We also highly encourage patients to find a support network to help as they recover. Others right here in our community are also struggling with opioid use and can understand your experience and become a shoulder to lean on. We encourage patients to talk to someone they trust about their use of opioid medications. Work with your doctor to slow down and eventually stop taking these medications if you are concerned about your dependence on them. There are also groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous, that can help you process your experience, feelings, and side effects.

In the instance when opioid medications are the best short-term solution for pain management, it is important they be taken properly and with supervision. In August, we looked at some of the techniques and technologies that patients can use to remember their pain medications regularly. While tried and true methods such as the use of a calendar, alarm clocks, visual reminders, and sticky notes can be effective for some, others might want to make use of various mobile apps that can help manage the process.

If opioid medications are the right choice for you, we do recommend that you always approach the treatment with great caution. Seek out alternatives that can also work and maybe, eventually, replace the drugs as your primary source of pain relief.

What has been your experience with opioid medications?

Image by Guian Bolisay via Flickr