Pain Management and Careful Use of Opioids

Opioids are prescription drugs that are used to treat pain. While extremely effective when it comes to pain management, opioids work on the central nervous system and can cause side effects ranging from nausea to respiratory depression and dependency if used for a continued period of time.

The debate as to whether opioids should be prescribed or not has been an ongoing one. Since the discovery of morphine nearly 200 years ago, doctors have used opiates to provide pain relief to patients. And there is no doubt that opioids such as morphine are very effective painkillers and do play an important role in controlling moderate to severe pain. If taken appropriately, opioids can and do provide relief to millions of patients around the globe.

According to Dr. Daniel J. Cole, President of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), approximately 100 million people suffer from chronic pain and a large majority of these people rely on opioids for pain relief. This being said, opioid abuse is a serious issue and should be weighed in when prescribing these drugs. Statistics show that drug overdose deaths, especially those involving an opioid, are on the rise in the U.S. More than six out of ten drug overdose deaths are related to an opioid. In addition, the number of overdose deaths from opioids has nearly quadrupled since 1999 with nearly half a million people dying from drug overdose between 2000 and 2005. This is not surprising since the number of opioid prescriptions have also nearly quadrupled since 1999.

That is precisely why the ASA has developed five tips for patients who have been prescribed opioids for pain management. These include:

· Have a detailed conversation with your physician. Understand why you're being prescribed an opioid - whether its fentanyl, codeine, oxycodone etc. You need to be aware of the risks associated with misuse of these drugs, especially if you have a history of addiction. You should also be aware of the common side-effects associated with these drugs and any signs and symptoms that may indicate potential problems with their use. Opioid overdose is an area of concern and you need to know the signs of an overdose and what to do in case it happens.

· Follow prescription guidelines. Remember, opioids can be misused quite easily but that misuse brings with it negative consequences. Therefore, follow directions very carefully. Inform your doctor about any other medications you take regularly in order to avoid any possible drug interactions. Never take these drugs with alcohol.

· Talk about multi-modal therapy. Many patients who are on opioids feel that their pain is not controlled adequately. If you have similar concerns, discuss the possibility of multi-modal therapy where doctors could prescribe a combination of medicines or methods to better manage your pain. This is also an effective strategy to minimize opioid use and still take benefit from their effectiveness in pain relief.

· Think about alternate therapies. There is no doubt that opioids are very effective for the management of moderate to severe pain. However, if and when your pain is controlled to a certain extent, you may want to evaluate your options. Think about alternate therapies such as meditation, massage, acupuncture and other interventional therapies that could help control your pain without a continued reliance on opioid drugs.

It is important to understand that there are cases where opioids are necessary and are prescribed to patients who need the necessary pain relief. There is no arguing that opioids are and will continue to be dominant players in the realm of pain management. However, careful prescription of these drugs is a necessity keeping in mind the number of cases of opioid misuse and addiction. In addition, it is important to educate patients on opioid use, mode of action, possible side-effects, drug interactions and risk of addiction and dependency. Only then can these drugs be used to their fullest potential. Patient safety comes first and providing both pain relief and safety is an important part of appropriate opioid use.

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