Prescription opioids are a group of natural and synthetic substances that act as the natural endorphins in the human body by providing relief from pain and giving a feeling of elation when taken.
Prescription opioids are usually manufactured as pills to treat severe and moderate pain, for instance, pain due to surgery, serious sports injuries, dental surgery, cancer and other medical emergencies.
Opioids are commonly used to treat varying degrees of pains that last for a long time, but despite their effectiveness, their risks are high.
Chronic Pain and Opioids
Even though the number of opioid prescription has been going down slightly, the real problem is that the number of people developing chronic pain conditions continues to increase which consequently increases the chances of them being hooked to one of the readily available opioid medications to relieve their pain. According to the NIH, 1 in 10 people in the United States experience chronic pain. This just one of the many reasons there is an epidemic of opioid use disorders.
In many cases, when opioids are taken strictly based on the medically professionals’ prescription for a short period of time they are quite effective and can reduce pain with minimal risk of addiction. On the other hand, dependence and addiction are very real risks when prescription opioids are misused or are used over the long-term.
With more and people getting potentially hooked to opioid medications we are faced with the question of how to effectively manage chronic pain without increasing the opioid addiction problem.
What are some alternatives to opioids?
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) March of 2016 guidelines, based on a review of the published academic literature on different strategies for managing chronic pain revealed that opioids are not very effective in treating chronic pain. However, the CDC reported that alternative strategies/procedures such as physical therapy, acupuncture, medical massage, and cognitive behavioral therapy were more effective in treating chronic pain.
- Medications – There are many other non-opioid based pain medications which are readily available by prescription or over-the-counter. Some of them include acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Motrin), aspirin (Bayer) and steroids.
- Physical therapy – A Physiotherapist may be able to design a rehabilitation program involving exercise for you to deal with chronic pain. In addition, ultrasound and deep-muscle massages, whirlpools may also provide some pain relief.
- Acupuncture – When dealing with different degrees of pain, acupuncture may be a viable means of treatment. It typically involves the use of tiny needles in your skin to disrupt the pain signals.
- Surgery – Sometimes surgery may be required to fix the abnormality in your body responsible for the pain when other treatments are not effective.
- Injections or nerve blocks – In case you are experiencing nerve pains, muscle spasm injections with local anesthetics or some other medications can help reduce the pains.
A growing number of patients have found pain relief from physical therapy, massages and other relaxation techniques, such as biofeedback in which you control the involuntary functions such as like heartbeat. However, other patients have embraced new techniques such as;
- Radio waves – It provides pain relief that lasts for a year and involves inserting a needle very close to the nerve causing pain and burning the nerve using an electric current generated by radio waves.
- Nerve blocks – Using X-ray imaging, medical professionals can inject numbing medications which block pain.
- Electrical signals – This provides muscle pain relief over a short-term period. It works by sending low-voltage electrical signals from a small machine to the painful area via pads connected to the skin.
- Spinal cord stimulation – spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is recommended by the pain medicine professional when other methods fail. It involves the use of a pacemaker-like device that substitutes the pain with a more mild sensation.
How is opioid addiction treated?
The treatment of opioid addiction depends on a number of factors which includes, age, family history of addiction, personal history of addiction and so on. However, the best form of treatment is usually agreed upon by the medical professional and the patient after a thorough medical assessment is conducted.
Opioid-based medications such as buprenorphine, methadone, and extended-release naltrexone, have been found to be quite effective in the treatment of opioid use disorders. These medications can be combined with behavioral counseling for a “whole patient” approach, known as Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT). In some cases, therapy and outpatient rehabilitation programs may be the solution.