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Opioids for Chronic Pain: Think Twice

Posted by Adriana Gonzalez, M.D. on Jul 12, 2017, 8:48:00 AM

A prescription opioid epidemic is sweeping across the country and the numbers are alarming. 

Misuse of and addiction to prescription opioid pain killers, such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and fentanyl, are at all-time highs. 

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 650,000 prescriptions for these drugs are filled daily. Since 1999, the amount of prescription pain drugs prescribed and sold in the United States has nearly quadrupled, despite the level of pain that Americans report remaining the same. 

These drugs are not necessarily bad. They have their place in certain situations, particularly cancer or end-of-life care. But they’re often not the best choice for chronic pain – especially because extended use may lead to addiction. Use an extra dose of caution if you try them.

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Other Approaches Might Be Better 

Recent research has shown that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as naproxen or ibuprofen, may be just as effective as opioids for certain types of chronic pain. 

Chronic pain, which is pain that lasts more than three months, tends to be complex. The best approach often is a toolbox of different pain-relief techniques. You may need to experiment to find the right combination for you.

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Talk to your doctor about: 

  • Physical therapy and exercise
  • Medications for depression and seizures
  • Injections
  • Patches or creams
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy or meditation 

Opioids Can Cause Problems 

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Common side effects of opioids include: 

  • Risk of addiction and overdose
  • Tolerance, having to take more to get the same relief
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Constipation, nausea, vomiting
  • Depression, confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Sleepiness 

If You’re Prescribed Opioids

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that physicians follow certain guidelines for prescribing opioids. If your doctor gives you opioids for pain: 

  • Follow instructions closely. Never take more medicine than prescribed.
  • Discuss all potential side effects of the medication with your doctor.
  • Tell your doctor about all medications you take, including supplements. Avoid
    • Alcohol
    • Sedating drugs such as:
      • Muscle relaxants
      • Benzodiazepines
      • Hypnotics
  • Work with your doctor on a plan to help manage your pain without opioids.
  • Talk frankly with your doctor about any past problems with alcohol or drugs.
  • Visit your doctor regularly.
  • Never share your medication or take another person’s medicine. 

Do you have chronic pain? How do you manage it?


Gonzalez_Adriana.pngDr. Adriana Gonzalez is a board-certified Internal Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Pasadena Clinic. She believes in fully educating patients about all of their medical conditions and therapy options and works with them to formulate the best individualized health plan.


Topics: opioids, opioid use, pain pill addiction

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