We have seen a staggering increase in both opiate painkiller and heroin abuse over the last decade. As people become dependent on opiates – physically and psychologically – a vicious cycle of misuse and abuse develops. We’ve got millions struggling with painkiller addiction and millions more have turned to heroin as a “more affordable” alternative once buying pills on the street becomes too costly.
For those who think the opiate epidemic is much ado about nothing, let’s have a look at the latest numbers, shall we?
- In 2014, approximately 20,000 people died from prescription opioid overdose.
- An estimated 2.1 million people are addicted to prescription painkillers.
- Approximately 25.3 million Americans struggle with chronic pain.
- The 104 percent increase in painkiller prescriptions between 2000 and 2010 has not resulted in improvement in pain control or disability outcomes.
A Need for Change
With this escalating trend, we clearly need change. And many believe this change needs to start with the healthcare providers who prescribe opioids. While these drugs are effective at relieving pain, opiates can have such severe consequences that alternatives can – and should – be offered to patients seeking relief.
The question then becomes: Are there any suitable options available? And luckily, the answer is yes. Alternative methods of pain relief range from other non-opioid medications to non-medicinal therapies. Though you may not know it, your doctors have many options at their disposal.
A Look at Opiate Alternatives
Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, is another common and effective pain reliever. It is recommended as a first-line of treatment by the American College of Rheumatology.
Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
These are more potent than acetaminophen, but also available in over-the-counter dosage. Higher doses can be taken with a prescription. NSAIDs include anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Aleve. The downside to these drugs, for older patients, is risk of organ toxicity, kidney or liver failure and ulcers.
Steroids inhibit injured nerves to provide pain relief. Drawbacks include the potential to accelerate joint destruction. Other side effects can include immune system suppression, gastrointestinal issues and psychiatric effects.
Serotonin and Norephinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors
These anti-depressants are appropriate for treating nerve, muscular and skeletal pain. Anti-depressants can also help people sleep. They offer help without the side effects of opioids.
This treatment uses implanted electrodes to interrupt nerve signals. This does not cure what is causing the pain, but stops the pain signals before they reach the brain. It can be used for back, neck, arm, or leg pain. Trials are currently underway to test their effectiveness on headaches.
Traditionally used to treat epilepsy, anticonvulsants can also relieve neuropathic pain by suppressing pain signals from the brain.
Arthritis, injuries, muscle pain, and headaches are among the kinds of pain treatable with injections. Types include nerve, trigger point, radiofrequency, and epidural injections.
This requires more work from the patient (attending sessions as well as following up at home with recommended exercises) but is often essential to improving physical healing and relieving pain long-term.
Massage, Acupuncture and Chiropractic Care
Some report these methods are just as effective, if not more effective, than medications. Plus, they are safe and free of side effects.
Doctors recommend exercise to all patients, but research has shown that it is especially important for those with chronic pain. Low-impact exercise helps improve mobility and functionality. Studies have shown that chronic back pain, joint pain, arthritis, and fibromyalgia can all be improved with yoga and tai chi.
Making Healthier Choices
Among the millions of chronic pain sufferers in the nation, no two cases are the same. Everyone has unique needs. If you or someone you know is in physical pain, advocating for the best care possible may be necessary. And taking a prescription opioid may not be the best option.
Through close examination of your needs, doctors can weigh the many options available. Working together, the two of you can decide on the best method of pain control and treatment.
Additional Reading: Am I Addicted to Pain Killers? How Can I Quit Safely?
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