The Truth About Opioid Treatment and Pain

Posted on: October 28th, 2021 by Our Team

Opioids are powerful painkillers that are used to combat severe and chronic pain because they can be very effective at relieving pain for a short period of time.

The word opioid is used to describe any substance – naturally occurring or manmade – that has similar biochemical actions to the major active substance in the opium poppy, which is morphine.

There are many opioids on the market. Morphine and codeine are natural opioids, made from the opium poppy. Others such as hydrocodone (found in Vicodin) and oxycodone (found in OxyContin and Percocet), are semi-synthetic, meaning they contain components of the poppy as well as chemical additions. Finally, there are fully synthetic opioids, which include fentanyl and methadone.

Compassion and caring come first when treating anyone with chronic pain, and opioids can be an effective treatment for severe ongoing pain caused by cancer. And in cases of serious cancer pain, the likelihood of becoming addicted is low.

However, there is a sweeping misconception that opioids are the best cure for all chronic pain. The United States has just 4.6 percent of the world’s population yet, incredibly, uses 80 percent of the world’s opioids.

Their use – and abuse – has exposed patients to dangerous and unnecessary risks associated with the longer term use of these drugs.

Opioids can trigger low blood pressure, a slower breathing rate and raise the potential for breathing to stop, leading to coma or death.

It is estimated that 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. Pain involves complex biochemistry, and opioids alter the brain’s response to pain in ways we don’t fully understand – but what we do understand is alarming. Significant changes to the brain can occur using opioid medications to treat pain.

Opioids can trigger low blood pressure, a slower breathing rate and raise the potential for breathing to stop, leading to coma or death.

In addition to these risks, opioid use for non-cancer pain for more than a short period of time should be closely monitored because there is limited evidence to support its continued effectiveness over time. Research has shown that long-term opioid use may actually make people more sensitive to pain — a condition called opioid-induced hyperalgesia.

Hyper means “over or excess,” and algesia means “sensitivity to pain.” People suffering from chronic pain who take opioids will typically require higher doses over time to achieve the same level of pain control, which leads to an increased risk of dependence, addiction, reduced quality of life and, far too often, overdose.

The good news is there are many alternatives to opioids to effectively manage chronic pain, and it is important for people who need pain relief to listen to their pain management specialist and seriously consider non-opioid treatments whenever possible.

Please remember that addiction is a complex brain disease and not a moral failing. If you or somebody you care about is abusing opioids, treatment and support programs are available. Talk to your doctor or someone you trust immediately. It takes courage to seek help – and this is a time to be courageous.

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