When you suffer from chronic pain, everyday life can be challenging. Medications can help, but can also have dangerous, and sometimes devastating, consequences. Learning how to manage chronic pain appropriately is important for your health and well-being. A look at chronic pain management during the opioid crisis will help you understand how these drugs can affect you and give you healthier options.
Opioids are substances that work in the nervous system of the body or in specific receptors in the brain to reduce the intensity of pain. Many people turn to opioids for chronic pain management. Even though the opioids may be prescribed by a healthcare professional, people can become addicted to the drugs and that can have serious consequences.
More than 750,000 people have died since 1999 from a drug overdose. Overdose deaths involving opioids, including prescription opioids, heroin, and synthetic opioids (like fentanyl), have increased almost six times since 1999. In 2018, two out of three drug overdose deaths involved an opioid. Overdoses involving opioids killed nearly 47,000 people in 2018, and 32% of those deaths involved prescription opioids.
The opioid crisis has grown more deadly. The number of opioid prescriptions has actually decreased 37% from 2014 to 2019. The increased numbers of overdoses and deaths are now a result of illicitly manufactured fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin.
What is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain affects an estimated 100 million Americans, or one third of the U.S. population, and it is the primary reason Americans are on disability. Chronic pain is different from acute pain, which usually starts suddenly and has a known cause, like an injury or surgery. Acute pain normally gets better as your body heals. Chronic pain is pain that last for three months or more and that can be caused by a disease or condition, injury, medical treatment, inflammation, or even an unknown reason.
Treating the Pain
Opioid medications are one of many ways to treat pain. Prescription opioids can be used to treat severe acute pain, but there is no evidence that they are as effective for long-term use. If you’re prescribed an opioid, the best approach is to try the lowest possible dose in the smallest quantity. Opioids should only be used when necessary and only for as long as necessary. Generally, for acute pain this is often three days or less; more than seven days is rarely needed.
Before taking opioid medication for chronic pain:
- Discuss with your doctor pain treatment options, including ones that do not involve prescription drugs.
- Tell your doctor about your medical history and if you or anyone in your family has a history of substance misuse or addiction to drugs or alcohol.
- Discuss all of the risks and benefits of taking prescription opioids.
Dangers of Addiction and Overdose
Anyone who takes prescription opioids can become addicted to them. You may also develop tolerance—meaning that over time you might need higher doses to relieve your pain, putting you at higher risk for a potentially fatal overdose. You can also develop physical dependence, meaning you have withdrawal symptoms when the medication is stopped.
In addition, your overdose risk increases when you combine your opioid medication with:
- Benzodiazepines (also known as “benzos,” including diazepam and alprazolam)
- Other sedatives
- Other opioids (prescription or illicit, including heroin)
Options for Chronic Pain Management
There are ways to manage your chronic pain that do not involve prescription opioids. In fact, the alternative methods may actually work better. They certainly have fewer risks and side effects. Depending on the type of pain you are experiencing, options may include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy – a psychological, goal-directed approach in which patients learn how to modify physical, behavioral, and emotional triggers of pain and stress
- Exercise therapy, including physical therapy
- Interventional therapies (injections)
- Exercise and weight loss
- Other therapies such as acupuncture and massage
Effective chronic pain management programs, such as what you’ll find at Recovery Without Walls, address additional factors such as your anxiety, depression, anger, stress, and fatigue, that can interact with your chronic pain, decreasing your body’s endorphin production. Non-opioid solutions such as meditation can also be very effective in helping you manage your chronic pain.
The Integrative Approach at Recovery Without Walls
At Recovery Without Walls, we understand how challenging it can be to live with chronic pain. Our integrative approach offers you healthy alternatives to prescription opioids. We personalize your treatment based on evidence-informed research, exceptional psychotherapy, nutritional support, and integrative healing methods designed to treat your whole body. Contact us today to learn how we can help you.