In the midst of the current opioid epidemic, thousands of people are facing devastating consequences and uncertainty regarding how they can treat chronic pain safely. Initially, the introduction of opioid prescription drugs promised relief from chronic pain without significant consequence, but over time, the reality of these medications was revealed.
The medications were incredibly effective, but it could come with a cost. Opioids are highly addictive, producing intense feelings of euphoria along with pain relief that led many to become dependent on them. This quickly led to skyrocketing rates of addiction and consequently, a growing number of overdose deaths as a result of misuse.
As the consequences of opioid addiction are revealed, many people seek alternatives to managing chronic pain. For many, the risks associated with use far outweigh the benefits of using the medications. While it is possible to use opioid medications to manage pain safely, the probability of dependencies developing, misuse rising, and the danger of the drug falling into the wrong hands has caused significant hesitation in continuing to prescribe these drugs to those in need.
How Prescription Opioid Use Leads to Addiction
Painkillers are commonly prescribed for a variety of ailments. Following surgery, managing chronic pain from injuries or illness, and a slew of other circumstances, opioids were the go-to medication for many prescribers. Even when used as prescribed, however, the drugs are incredibly potent and effective with many finding their tolerance to its effects increasing quickly over a short period of time.
Soon, many people found themselves needing larger doses in order to achieve the same effects. This pattern of use, which leads to increased tolerance, subsequently causes dependencies to develop. Over time, opioid use becomes continuous because it is needed to feel normal and without it, many found themselves struggling with uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that can become life-threatening in nature.
As addiction develops, physical, behavioral, and emotional changes begin to surface. It can be identified through a number of signs and symptoms, including:
- Losing interest in activities once enjoyed
- Changes in hygiene
- Severe mood swings
- Increased agitation and irritability
- Significant changes in energy levels
- Financial hardship
- Changes in social circles
- Missing important obligations and responsibilities
- Becoming increasingly avoidant of friends and family
- The experience of withdrawal symptoms
Opioids are derived from opium, the substance that heroin comes from. When prescriptions can no longer be filled or it becomes too costly, many with an opioid addiction find themselves turning to heroin in order to feed their addiction. Surprisingly, heroin is cheaper and easier to access than prescription painkillers. As a byproduct, the opioid epidemic has led to increased rates of heroin addiction.
Treating Pain without Opioids
Millions of people need help managing chronic pain and finding a safer way to do so has become imperative. Fortunately, there are a number of non-opioid treatment options for those in need of relief. While there are other non-opioid medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, many end up using opioids because these medications do not provide enough relief. There are a variety of alternative therapies that can provide help without the risk. Non-drug therapies and remedies may be used alone or in conjunction with non-opioid medications to successfully manage pain.
Some forms of treatment for pain that do not utilize opioids include:
- Physical therapy: Physical therapists can create a unique treatment program for those suffering pain following an accident, injury, or other ailments. Exercise programs can be used to strengthen the body and decrease pain. Physical therapy may use massages, electrical nerve stimulation, and whirlpools to treat pain over time.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture is the process of inserting thin needles into various parts of the body to interrupt pain. For some, this can provide relief as it is believed to stimulate the release of endorphins, a natural pain-killing chemical in the body.
- Surgery: Depending on the ailment, surgery may be used to provide relief from pain. Injuries and abnormalities in the body that can contribute to pain may be able to be corrected through this action.
In addition to these approaches to pain management, new methods of treating pain are continuously being developed. Some of these may be used alone or in conjunction with other forms of treatment. This includes:
- Radio waves: Radiofrequency ablation is the process of inserting a needle near the nerve responsible for pain and burning it using an electric current. This cuts off the pain signal and can provide relief for a prolonged period of time.
- Nerve blocks: By injecting numbing medication into specific locations of the body, physicians may be able to help patients find relief from chronic pain. Although it may take several sessions and repeated treatment, the medication can weaken or block pain signals.
- Electrical signals: Electrical nerve stimulation can provide short-term relief from pain by sending low-voltage signals through pads into the body. The pads are attached to the body near the source of the pain and a small device is used to transmit the signal. It is thought to interrupt pain signals and boost the release of endorphins.
- Spinal cord stimulation: In some cases, this form of treatment may be necessary as other methods have failed. A small device is implanted into the lower back of the patient and produces a tingling, massage-like sensation. When pain is experienced, the patient has direct control over addressing it. Using a remote, they can send signals to the affected area and reduce pain.
- Pain pumps: Most commonly used in patients with cancer, pain pumps allow patients to directly release medications to their spinal cord in order to achieve relief. This gives patients control over managing their pain in a way that is more effective than other forms of treatment.
Research and studies continue to provide more alternatives to pain management that are safe and effective for patients. As treatment evolves, it is becoming increasingly apparent that it is not impossible to manage chronic pain without the use of opioid medications.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to opioids due to chronic pain, allow Nexus Recovery Services to help.