Opioid use, both legal and Illegal, is prevalent in America. Unfortunately, the abuse of opioids has led to addiction and countless senseless deaths in our country. One hundred fifteen people die every day in the United States by overdosing on opioids.1 In 2016 alone, there were 64,070 drug overdoses in the U.S., which is more than the number of American lives lost during the entire Vietnam War.
Opioids work to reduce pain by affecting the central nervous system. They are available in tablets, capsules, or liquids. Opioids contain chemicals that relieve pain by relaxing the body. Pain ls reduced, or eliminated, when opioids attach to receptors in the body, such as the brain or spinal cord, blocking pain signals between the brain and the body.
Physicians prescribe opioids to treat pain symptoms. However, treating these symptoms without proper precautions, can lead to deadly side effects. In hospitals, opioids are often used post-surgery to dull post-op surgical pain and distress. A pain free patient arguably can make a physician’s job easier. Overworked and overburdened doctors, with large caseloads, often do not take the time to educate patients in the dangers of improper opioid use. Similarly, they fail to take the time to offer patients alternative pain remedies.
The use of opioids requires a risk-benefit analysis. In extreme circumstances, such as for terminal cancer, palliative and end of life care, opioids may very well be the treatment of choice. Otherwise, non- opioid treatments should be the first line of attack to treat chronic pain.”
Non-opioid treatments are preferable, as they can provide safer, nonaddictive, relief to chronic pain sufferers. Despite this knowledge, amazingly, opioids are often prescribed before other non- addictive means of pain relief are utilized.
Opioid use has been linked to increases in mortality and morbidity, “including respiratory failure, surgical site infection, mechanical ventilation, pneumonia, myocardial infraction, and postoperative ilus (where your intestines stop contracting), as well as prolonged hospital stays and non routine discharges. In other words, giving patient opioids to treat postoperative pain can make them sicker.”
One of the more dangerous side effects of opioids is addiction. Because opioids lead to a feeling of relaxation and euphoria, they are highly addictive. Misuse of opioids can lead to minimal side effects, such as drowsiness and confusion. Other side effects include constipation, nausea, dizziness, depression, and low testosterone/sex drive. Major side effects of such misuse occur when individuals overdose, slowing down their breathing, causing their heart to stop beating, and leading to death.
The onus of safe pain treatment cannot be left entirely on the medical community. Patients need to be responsible for their own self-care. In consultation with their doctors, patients should set obtainable goals for their own recovery, including realistic pain expectations. Alternatives to opioid use, in the medical community, require a holistic approach to treating patients. Doctors need to attempt to Identify those at risk of addiction before prescribing potentially addictive opiates. No n– pharmacological alternatives include exercise, physical therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, weight loss, acupuncture and massage, along with patient education. Non-opioid alternative medications include acetaminophen (Tylenol), and ibuprofen (Advil), and topical agents such as lidocaine.
Doctors also need to set realistic expectations, at the outset of treatment, that some pain is often inevitable. Not every pain needs to, or should, be relieved, without first trying alternative means.
Although certainly uncomfortable and undesirable, pain can be a positive sign of healing. Unfortunately, America has become a culture of quick solutions. Instead of getting to the root of a problem, many Americans choose to pop a pill. Too often doctors are willing to prescribe opioids, and other prescription medications, because it is often quicker and easier than finding other means of treating the problem. Pills and pain relievers do not provide a “ cure,” but merely mask the true cause of a condition. Often, the long-range benefits of a healthy balanced diet, exercise and responsibility for one‘ s own wellbeing, may prevent the need for treatment before it arises. When the need for treatment is inevitable, the medical community needs to work together with patients to employ less addictive alternative treatment plans.