Mayo Clinic: If opioids are such a problem in our country, why
are they used so often to treat pain? Arenít there other
effective options for controlling pain that arenít as risky?
is a common medical problem, and opioids are often used to
combat it because they can be very effective at relieving pain
for a short period of time. However, you are correct that
taking opioids poses significant risks, including addiction
and overdose. Alternatives to opioids are available, and itís
wise for people who need pain relief to seriously consider
using non-opioid options when possible.
are powerful painkillers. Commonly prescribed opioid
medications include oxycodone, morphine, hydromorphone,
oxymorphone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, meperidine, codeine and
medications are often used in hospitals to combat pain after
surgery or to ease pain after a traumatic injury. Opioids also
can be the most effective treatment for severe ongoing pain,
such as pain caused by cancer. But other uses of opioids are
increasing, too. Estimates are that 50 million Americans
suffer from chronic pain. Many turn to opioid painkillers for
relief. Opioid prescriptions for chronic noncancer pain have
doubled in the last decade.
of serious cancer pain, the likelihood of becoming addicted to
opioids over time is low. In many other situations, however,
addiction to and overdose of opioids is a very real concern.
Overdosing on opioids triggers low blood pressure, a slow rate
of breathing and the potential for breathing to stop, as well
as the possibility of a coma. Opioid overdose has a
significant risk of death. In fact, according to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, more people in the U.S.
have fatal overdoses related to opioid use than compared to
overdoses of heroin and cocaine combined.
addition to these risks, using opioids for more than a short
period of time needs to be viewed with caution because little
evidence is available to support its effectiveness over time
for noncancer pain. People with chronic pain who take opioids
typically need higher doses over time to achieve the same
level of pain control, leading to an increased risk of
dependence, addiction, overdose and reduced quality of life.
Some research also has shown that long-term opioid use may
actually make people more sensitive to pain ó a condition
called opioid-induced hyperalgesia.
of alternatives to opioid medications exists for managing
chronic pain. They include other pain-relieving medications
that donít contain opioids, such as acetaminophen, naproxen
sodium and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including
aspirin and ibuprofen.
and occupational therapy, stress management, relaxation
techniques, acupuncture and biofeedback all have been shown to
have a positive effect on chronic pain, too. Incorporating
cognitive behavioral therapy, in which a therapist works with
patients to learn more effective, positive ways to cope with
chronic pain, also has been shown to be useful in dealing with
health care organizations, including Mayo Clinic, offer pain
rehabilitation programs that help people taper off opioid pain
medications while learning about these and other
approaches to managing chronic pain not only eliminate the
risks of addiction and overdose, in many cases, they also
offer more effective pain relief that lasts longer and allows
people to maintain a higher quality of life than is possible
with ongoing opioid use.