Opioids have proven very useful for treatment of acute pain and are increasingly used for chronic pain patients. During the last 25 years, opioids have been a first choice prescription plan for chronic pain conditions of all kinds, for people of all ages and backgrounds. It hasn’t been until the last decade that doctors and specialists have recognized the correlation between opioid abuse and chronic pain sufferers.
In the late nineties and even early 2000’s, it was stereotyped that those who struggled with drug addiction were not patients that were given these medications by a doctor, but “less than” members of society who stole the drugs for the direct intention of abusing them. We know of course, this is far from the truth, and that a high percentage of drug abusers began their addiction with a prescription from a professional.
What types of chronic pain conditions are often treated with opiods?
- Cancer Pain
- Diabetic Nerve Pain
- Chronic Joint Pain
- Chronic Migraines
- Pain Associated with Spasticity
- Neuropathic Pain
- Pain After Stroke, Spinal Injury, Brain Injury
- Scar Pain
- Pelvic Floor Pain
- Autoimmune disease related pain
- Multiple Sclerosis
Chronic pain is a difficult condition to treat. The physical and emotional side effects of constantly being in pain and having your body tell you something is wrong (even if its not) leads to a whole host of cardiac and immune deficiencies, as well as severe anxiety and depression. Opioids have proven to reduce the intensity of the pain, and in some cases- dissolve it all together. Overtime, people may need more and more of the drug to keep the symptoms down as their body gets accustomed to the chemicals- thus leading to abuse of the drugs.
If the addiction is based off of the desire to have a relief from pain, is it considered okay? Does is make addiction and less of a crisis as compared to those without medical conditions who use strictly to get high? This is where the line gets blurry, and why those struggling with chronic pain often get left out of the conversation, because we just don’t know how to talk about it.
If you suffer from chronic pain, you now how debilitating it can be. It affects every single aspect of your life, and stops you from being able to do even the simplest tasks. It’s the number one cause of disability in the united states, and over 100 million americans have the condition.
Opioids suppress the body’s perception of pain by blocking signals between the brain and the nervous system. Overtime, tolerance is built and addiction is often manifested. Short term acute pain treatment may be successful with opioids, but with chronic pain (likely to last for extended periods of time, will likely lead to drug abuse.
The issue is that the government, doctors, and medical professionals are not addressing chronic pain with the right approach. Pain management needs to be addressed beyond the physical, and incorporate psychological/emotional triggers as well. There are two parts to the pain structure: physical signals caused my actual damage to the body, and the mind’s interpretation/reaction to those signals (emotions).
When discussing the opioid crisis, efforts are typically focused on reducing the number of non prescribed drug abusers/ addicts. Money is funded to information centers, detox center, rehabs, therapy, etc. What isn’t addressed is how to safely incorporate opioids into your holistic treatment plan for pain management. When the time is right to come off the drugs, there needs to be open discussion about expectations, pain management, and next steps.
The reason chronic pain sufferers are overlooked in the crisis is because it’s considered “okay” for them to be addicted. They have a right to use the drug because they suffer. Right? Wrong. Addiction in chronic pain sufferers is still addiction, it’s still a band aid for what is really going on inside the body. At the same time, the drug industry is one of the biggest money makers in the country. They are already facing enough fire from the crisis, and losing profits from the public effort to reduce drug use. Parents are less keen on opiods for sports injuries, doctors are more weary of persibing large doses after surgery. Chronic pain however, is still on the list of “acceptable” reasons for opiods. So at the same time as their not being enough discussion around alternate treatments, there is also a push for chronic pain sufferers to just take a bunch of pills.
Opioids should be an absolute last resort in the treatment of chronic pain, and when used, used lightly in conjunction with other holistic methods. In fact, studies have shown that introducing opioids into chronic pain sufferers can make the pain increase when not taking the drugs. This is due to how opioids alter the chemicals in our brains. Whatever pain was originally there will be doubled once withdrawing from the drug, because now you’re adding a whole heap of emotional haywire to the mix.
If you suffer from chronic pain, don’t reach for a bottle of pills. And use your voice to speak about the complexities of these issues to the public. Those with a diagnosis are just as involved in the opioid crisis as those who choose to use for sake of using. Below are a list of alternate methods to treat chronic pain:
- Breathing exercises
- talk therapy
- art therapy
- herbal medicine