All painkillers carry risks, even over-the-counter ones, but it’s the narcotic painkillers that carry the highest risk. Narcotic painkillers have been used to treat both chronic pain and more common kinds of pain caused by back injuries, headaches, arthritis and other conditions. Opioids don’t work by removing pain, but rather by decreasing the perception of pain and producing a sense of pleasure and well-being. These medications act on opioid receptors in both the spinal cord and brain to reduce the intensity of pain-signal perception. They also affect brain areas that control emotion, which can further diminish the effects of painful stimuli. While opioids are very effective at relieving some types of pain, many people wind up taking them in situations where they don’t work well and are not as safe. Pain drugs can be as bad as the pain itself. So you need to know when they are really needed and how to use them safely. Understanding the risks is key to avoiding serious side effects.
More than 30% of Americans suffer from acute or chronic pain conditions and many of them are turning to opioid painkillers. Prescriptions for opioid painkillers have steadily increased over the past 25 years, from 76 million prescription in 1991 to 259 million prescriptions in 2012; more than enough to give every adult American their own bottle of pills. When people with no history of drug addiction appropriately use narcotics at prescribed doses to control pain, they are relatively unlikely to become addicted to the drugs. Estimates of the rate of opioid addiction among chronic pain patients vary from about 3 percent up to 26 percent. This variability is the result of differences in treatment duration.
Because opiates and their analogs interact at the various opioid receptors in the brain, they have a wide range of side effects, The most common side effects of opioid use include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, usually caused by the way the drug interacts with opioid receptors along the digestive tract. Other common side effects include sedation, dizziness, tolerance, physical dependence, and respiratory depression. Less common side effects of opioid use may include: Gastroparesis: a disorder which slows or stops the movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine, leading to pain, excess gas, bloating, heartburn, and weight loss. Hyperalgesia: hypersensitivity to pain caused by opioid use which causes the nervous system to become overly sensitive to painful, and nonpainful, stimulus. Muscle rigidity: the inability of muscles to relax normally, causing muscle pain as muscles stay contracted for a long period of time. Myoclonus: sudden involuntary jerking or twitching of a muscle or group of muscles which cannot be controlled. Withdrawal symptoms may occur if drug use is suddenly reduced or stopped. These symptoms may include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps, and involuntary leg movements. The symptoms can be mild to severe (depending on the drug) and can usually be managed medically or avoided by slowly tapering down the drug dosage.
Controlling pain is the goal when opioids are used medically. Chronic pain often waxes and wanes. If you and your doctor feel you need an opioid, reserve it for flare-ups. In general, experts advise that in the treatment of chronic pain, opioids be used at low or moderate doses. To decrease risk of negative or adverse side effects, it is suggested that patients are monitored closely to make sure they are still benefiting from the drugs in terms of pain relief and physical function. If not, it might be time to consider other options. Studies show that nondrug treatments, including exercise, lifestyle adjustments, behavioral therapy, acupuncture, and massage, can significantly reduce pain and increase the ability to function. So much so that some people with mild and even moderate chronic pain manage well without taking any medications regularly.
Who is NaturalPainRelief.org and Why Do We Exist?
We exist to inform and educate those suffering from temporary or chronic pain to find alternative science-based solutions free from addictive drug treatments and invasive procedures.