The opioid crisis that has plagued America in recent years has spread like wildfire, and it remains a national emergency that won’t be easily snuffed out. Between 1999 and 2016, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 200,000 people in the U.S. died from overdoses linked to the use of prescription opioids. The death rate in 2016 was five times higher than it had been in 1999.
The crisis continues. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services designated opioid abuse a public health emergency, per beaumont.org. This came at a time when more than 2 million Americans were addicted to the potent narcotic painkillers that included such commonly prescribed drugs as morphine, oxycodone (Percocet), codeine, and hydrocodone (Vicodin).
Pain Management Is Serious Stuff
At any given time about 25 million Americans deal with chronic daily pain. More than half of those are besieged with category 4 pain, per aetna.com, which is the highest classification of pain. Not only can that pain be debilitating – and a source of disablement – it can influence your ability to perform your job, care for your family, and enjoy life. Unless you have suffered from that kind of pain, such as that which follows surgery, it’s difficult to fathom what such sufferers are going through and why they end up addicted to opioids.
Such pain can be acute (short-term) or chronic, with the latter defined as intense pain that lasts three months or longer. When administered and managed properly, powerful opioid pain relievers can make life tolerable for people afflicted with intense pain. Opioids have predominantly been prescribed for those experiencing shorter-term acute pain, but the problem comes in the form of addiction. These drugs work by interacting with opioid receptors in your cells to block your perception of pain, per health.usnews.com.
There are two kinds of opioids-related addiction – the psychological kind, in which the patient seeks to experience the euphoria (also described as a “high”) that often accompanies opioid use, and the physical kind, in which your body become dependent on the pain-relieving properties of opioids, essentially getting used to the drug. Stop using an opioid abruptly, such as when your prescription runs out, and you might be subjected to the unpleasantness of withdrawal symptoms and the pain might even return.
Pain Relief Alternatives to Opioids
When it comes to managing pain, regardless the source, you should always be in close contact with your physician. This is an area in which playing doctor to yourself is not advisable; no way, no how. Still, if you’re looking for something to talk about with your doctor – or your surgeon, if you’ve just had surgery, be sure to discuss with the surgery team painkilling options other than opioids.
Be aware, too, that opioids are not effective with all types of pain, and not everyone who uses opioids become addicted to them. But if you do use them, you might be playing with fire.
- Oral analgesics. These are over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers taken by mouth. This covers a fairly wide range of painkillers, and include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, usually referred to as NSAIDs, per health.usnews.com. These diminish pain and decrease inflammation by thwarting the production of enzymes linked to inflammation. NSAIDs have been compared to steroids in how they function, but without the side effects. Examples include ibuprofen, aspirin, and Aleve (naproxen sodium). Another popular oral analgesic is acetaminophen (Tylenol, Panadol), which can not only relieve pain but reduce fever.
- Topical analgesics. These are pain relievers applied to your skin in the form of a gel, spray, or cream, per health.usnews.com. It is recommended that these be administered somewhat generously to the areas of skin where the pain is located. Such topical substances have shown to be especially effective for joint pain linked to arthritis, nerve pain associated with diabetes, and muscle aches typically associated with athletic injuries.
- Non-opioid prescription drugs. Per beaumont.org, these can be considered for use in conjunction with Tylenol or Motrin. One such class of drugs are tricyclic antidepressants that not only treat depression (a significant risk factor for addiction), but also might be effective in treating nerve pain. Another non-opioid available through prescription are a category of drugs known as gabapentinoids, whose initial use was for treating seizures but which have also shown an ability to calm over-firing nerves.
- Localized nerve blocks. This involves the use of anesthetics that can be injected in problem areas to numb that area for 18 hours, such as an injection into the lower neck immediately following shoulder surgery, per beaumont.org.
- Alternative therapies. Per smartrecovery.org, these can include treatments such as massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic care, which are focused on the body and offer natural mechanisms for coping with pain. An added benefit of these is that they can activate the release of dopamine-stimulating endorphins simultaneous to enhancing body function.
- Exercise. This is highly recommended for those suffering from chronic pain. Studies have shown that mild exercise that is low-impact in nature sort can significantly enhance your functionality and mobility, two attributes often limited by persistent pain. Along those lines, per smartrecovery.org, yoga is an excellent form of exercise capable of alleviating chronic conditions such as back pain, joint pain, arthritis, and fibromyalgia.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy. In short, this is a psychological treatment that involves coping mechanisms for pain management. Chronic pain sufferers are taught how to recognize symptoms, manage their perceptions of pain, place their focus elsewhere, and use strategies to handle negative feelings.
- Mindfulness and meditation. Per smartrecovery.org, these practices involve approaches aimed at worrying less about their pain and actually accepting it on some level to diminish its intensity.