According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, around 25% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them and around 10% develop an opioid use disorder. Opioids were the cause of more than 40,000 deaths in 2016 – or three out of every five overdose deaths in the U.S.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), opioid prescriptions nearly quadrupled between 1999 and 2014 as they became the pain killer of choice for many of the 25 million Americans suffering from chronic pain, and millions more who experience acute or post-surgical pain every year. Unfortunately, the CDC estimates that as many as one in four people prescribed opioids for long-term, chronic pain will struggle with addiction. There is no doubt that opioids provide tremendous relief for those dealing with severe pain, but more attention needs to be focused on the safe and appropriate use of these drugs.
To help combat this epidemic, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently outlined five priorities for treating and preventing addiction. One of those -- “Advancing better practices for pain management” — includes more focus on safe and effective alternatives to opioids. It’s important to have options for treating pain when it strikes, and you can help ensure that you get the relief you need while minimizing the risk of addiction by following a few guidelines:
- Talk to your doctor before taking opioids. Find out if there is a non-opioid option that they recommend and, if not, ask them to prescribe the lowest dose and the smallest quantity you may need. Here are some more questions that you can ask your doctor about prescribing opioids.
- Educate yourself on your non-opioid medications to treat pain, some of which may work better and have fewer side effects. These options include acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and medications for depression or for seizures.
- Consider complementary and integrative approaches for pain. There are several therapies that may work just as well as pain relievers, including cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise therapy or physical therapy. Acupuncture, massage, and meditation have also been shown to help alleviate or manage some types of pain.
- Take opioids exactly as prescribed, never exceed the dosage, and discontinue use as quickly as possible. Oftentimes, a non-opioid pain reliever will be adequate after just a few days, so ask your doctor about options as your pain subsides. And never take opioids that weren’t prescribed for you – or for the particular pain you are experiencing.
- Safely dispose of your unused or expired drugs. This will reduce the chance that others may accidentally take or intentionally misuse them. Not all medications are safe to throw away in the garbage, including opioids, so find a drug disposal location near you.
Communities are working on a national and local level to reduce access to prescription and illegal opioids, as well as expand treatment for opioid addiction and implement comprehensive strategies to prevent future opioid addiction. The most important step is to avoid addiction so as individuals, we should be cognizant of the choices that we make to treat our pain by educating ourselves and talking with our doctors about pain management options.
This article first appeared in the April 2018 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.