An estimated 50 million Americans live each day with chronic pain. Until recently, opioids were the drug of choice for everything from osteoarthritis to fibromyalgia. Without knowledge of their addictive properties, doctors had no way of understanding how detrimental these prescriptions would be; today, over 11.4 million people have misused these medications, and 2.1 million have an opioid use disorder. No one should have to suffer from either chronic pain or addiction. We believe that symptoms can be managed successfully without these highly addictive substances.
Opioids vs. Opiates
We should begin by explaining what exactly these substances are. While the terms are often used interchangeably, there exists an important distinction between opioids and opiates. Opiates are defined as any of the natural medications coming from opium, which can be extracted from the opium poppy. Examples of this are codeine and morphine. Opioids, however, are not naturally occurring. While they bond to the same receptors as opiates, they’re considered semi-synthetic or synthetic – created in laboratories and chemically manufactured by modifying opiates. The names of these drugs may be familiar: fentanyl, methadone, oxycodone, and hydrocodone.
The Problem with Opioids
By now, you’ve probably heard countless news stories about America’s opioid epidemic. The harmful effects of these medications cannot be overstated. While they certainly have their clinical use, opioids are incredibly addictive. An average of 130 Americans die every day from overdosing on them, and over 60% of overdose deaths involve an opioid. The number of opioids prescribed in 2015 was so high that every American could be medicated 24/7 for three full weeks. In short, they’re incredibly addictive and tremendously overprescribed.
So, if opioids are so dangerous, how did we get here? The answer is complex, but this is the simplified version. Twenty years ago, in the 1990s, it became more common to treat chronic pain by prescribing opioid medications. This was initially due to misinformation given to physicians by pharmaceutical companies – they were told that in a clinical setting, addiction was “highly unlikely,” resulting in increased prescription to allay everything from moderate to severe pain. Use and misuse became widespread from there. Now, after years of research and innumerable deaths, we know the potentially fatal risks of these highly addictive medications. In 2017, The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services declared the opioid epidemic to be a public health emergency. This begins the modern trend of seeking alternative treatments for chronic pain.
Managing Chronic Pain Without Opioids
Fortunately, opioids aren’t the only option for the treatment of chronic pain. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) offers several alternative solutions in their guidelines for clinicians. Some of these are pharmacologic, or based in medication, while others are nonpharmacologic, based in other approaches. The root of this new treatment method is open communication between physician and patient. By clearly describing the type of pain, its intensity, and activities that worsen it, your doctor can make sound recommendations for managing it. Goals should be reasonable and focused on overall function – “I want to be able to play with my child” vs. “I want to completely eliminate all pain.” Be an active participant in your own healing, and don’t forget to advocate for your needs.
Nonopioid Medications for Chronic Pain
There are a wide variety of often-overlooked medications that are able to effectively manage chronic pain, many of which are even available over the counter. Instead of jumping straight to oxycodone or hydrocodone for pain management, consider beginning with nonopioid medication options. A few of the analgesics may even be familiar to you: Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and NSAIDs (Motrin, Advil, aspirin) prevent inflammation and soothe everything from migraines to osteoarthritis. Select antidepressants may be used for neuropathic pain associated with fibromyalgia, diabetes, and many other concerns. Topical agents like Lidocaine and certain NSAIDs can be applied directly to the skin, and are considered safer than systemic medications.
Managing Chronic Pain Without Medication
It’s also often possible to center your treatment plan around the nonpharmalogic solutions we mentioned earlier. As always, we recommend that you consult with your physician prior to discontinuing or decreasing your use of medications, or before taking up a new routine.
One often-cited treatment for chronic pain seems counterintuitive: it’s exercise therapy. This can take many forms depending on one’s condition, from walking to swimming to yoga, and boasts a wide array of benefits. Even moderate exercise can reduce lower back pain, create improvements in posture and weakness that contribute to musculoskeletal pain, improve fibromyalgia symptoms, serve as preventative migraine care, and reduce osteoarthritis pain. It also improves your well-being and functioning across the board.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is also an excellent option for pain management. Often, one of the biggest obstacles for those with chronic conditions is the distress that comes along with their physical symptoms. By addressing the psychological aspects of one’s experience – distress, anxiety, avoidance, and fear – you can build coping strategies and calm catastrophic thinking in your day to day life. Support groups and counseling will build a network of peer support, reducing feelings of helplessness and loneliness.
Opioid Addiction Treatment in Austin, TX
For those with chronic pain, opioids don’t have to be your only solution, and sobriety doesn’t mean suffering without them. It’s possible to transition to other forms of pain management. If you or a loved one struggle with opioid addiction, BRC Recovery can help. Our multidisciplinary approach allows us to walk with you every step of the way – from intervention to treatment. To learn more, speak with one of our compassionate team members by calling 866-905-4550. We look forward to hearing from you.