There are 100 million Americans who suffer from long-term chronic pain. Situations like medical history or an auto accident can result in chronic pain. Moreover, chronic pain is a situation that can influence an individual’s health and impact their quality of life.

Sometimes doctors prescribe opioids to their patients. Opioids are generally considered to be addictive in nature. Although they are effective in treating pain, they are also associated with some risks.

Opioids are medication prescribed by doctors to treat severe pain. Doctors suggest opioid pain medication in situations like chronic headaches and backaches, that can occur because of varying reasons.

They are used by a patient-

  • Who is recovering from surgery
  • Or is experiencing severe pain associated with serious ailments like cancer, and by adults and children who get injured while playing sports or during a fall

Short-term side effects of opioid consumption include constipation, sleepiness, nausea and so on. It can also cause side effects that are life-threatening. An overdose of opioid consumption causes serious conditions such as slowed heart rate, shortness of breath and lost consciousness.

However, when used safely, opioid pain medication helps to control acute pain. You can reduce the extent of risk from taking the medicines by strictly following the doctor’s instructions.

Moreover, if you are prescribed opioids, the following are safety measures to be taken:

Have a clear conversation with the doctor -

Before you make the decision on taking opioid pain medication, consider having an in-detailed discussion with your physician or an anesthesiologist.

Next, search other options instead of opioid therapy for pain management.

Make sure you have considered all alternative pain-relieving medications that don’t carry an addiction risk. If opioids remain the best option, ask how to minimize the risks and side effects.

Provide full information about your medical conditions — and if you have taken opioids in the past, clearly mention to your physician how they affected your health.

Moreover, inform your doctor/physician if you have an addiction to alcohol or drugs or if you have a history of addiction to drugs or alcohol. This is because people who are predisposed to alcohol abuse may be more susceptible to misusing opioids.

Be careful about the side effects. As discussed earlier, some side effects of opioids may be mild, such as sleepiness and constipation, while the serious symptoms include shallow breathing, slowed heart rate and loss of consciousness, which can also be a result of an overdose.

Hence,

Learn from your physician what factors you should be aware of and what are the preventive measures for potential problems. If you experience possible symptoms of an overdose, do not delay and contact your doctor as soon as possible.

Remember - Take opioids only as directed. Besides you following your physician’s directions, get informed about all the precautions related to opioid pain management.

As a precautionary measure, always-

  • Read the prescription label.
  • Also, ask your physician whether it is safe to take opioids in combination with other medications.

Opioids and surgery

Chronic usage of opioids may cause complications in surgery and may also lengthen the recovery period from the surgery. To avoid such critical conditions, talk to your physician and the team of experts who are involved with your treatment so that you can safely manage the pain and undergo a successful surgery.

CDC guidelines for prescribing Opioids

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides guidance to physicians to ensure safe prescription of opioid medications. So, what are the recommendations that doctors are required to follow-

  • The lowest and least effective dosage - As per CDC guidelines, physicians must prescribe the lowest dose of opioids and for a short period. In many cases, acute pain does not require a higher dosage. Therefore, keep track on the number of days of medication you are prescribed.
  • Realistic treatment goals – Following an in-detailed assessment, your doctor must determine the pain relief you will get in a specific period of time. He/she should share with you the treatment goals and results to improve function and quality of life. He/she should ensure full support to achieve your established goals.
  • Opioid therapy agreement – Your physician will ask you to sign an agreement for opioid therapy for chronic pain before starting the medication. It includes the patient’s responsibilities while undergoing treatment. They are -
    • Patients must consume medication prescribed by only one physician and one pharmacy.
    • Patients will not receive additional medication until the current prescription runs out, even if the medication is stolen or misplaced.
  • Schedule regular check-ups – The doctor/physician must assign a follow-up appointment between one to four weeks following your initial appt, in order to timely evaluate the risks and benefits of the treatment. If you are taking opioids, your doctors may ask you for regular follow up visits and tests. You will be required to keep visiting your doctor as long as you continue taking opioids.
  • Minimize the dosage before withdrawal – Your physician will determine when you should stop taking opioids. If your health and chronic pain have healed with opioids, your doctor will slowly minimize the dosage of the medicines and gradually reduce usage to avoid severe side effects.

Let us have a look at other therapies that could be combined with taking opioids:

  • Combination therapy – Taking opioids alone may not always fully control your pain. Combining opioids with other medications or non-medication treatments, can improve your pain management and result in you needing a lower dosage of opioids. However, it should be decided by the physician.
  • Nondrug therapies – Apart from taking painkillers, many people also find relief with alternative therapies, such as biofeedback, meditation, massages, and acupuncture. Many people also experience pain relief with interventional therapies, such as nerve blocks, or surgical procedures in which the nerves causing the pain are treated. A physician or an expert will help you to figure out what works best for you.
  • Chiropractic treatments - Chiropractic therapy is an alternative therapy that deals with the treatment of mechanical disorders and Musco-skeletal system, especially the spine. Chiropractic therapy is safe and a chiropractic practitioner inculcates gentle techniques to relieve various types of pain
  • Physical therapy - Physical therapy is a health care specialization that addresses the functional mobility of the body. Physical therapists are licensed professionals who evaluate and asses an individual’s body before initiating the therapy. Physiotherapists also perform tests to measure the ability of the body to move, bend, walk, climb the stairs as well as the body’s posture.
  • Injections or implants - If you are having muscle spasms or nerve pain, an injection of local anesthetics or other medications can help short-circuit your pain.

Opioid Crisis

Opioid crisis or opioid epidemic refers to the widespread misuse of opioid medicines.

To improve the conditions after the crisis, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is supporting the patients by -

  • A constant improvement in access to treatment and recovery services
  • Encouraging the use of overdose-reversing drugs
  • Studying the epidemic through better public health surveillance
  • Support by cutting-edge research on pain and addiction
  • Advanced and better practices for pain management

At Kroll Care, we are committed to delivering personalized care to improve the quality of life of our patients. As a provider of chronic pain management in Atlanta, we strive to get the best possible treatment to our patients by first understanding the root cause of their pain. Our expert team of doctors constantly work to bring back comfort for patients suffering from chronic pain.