While Helpful, Pain Medication Can Have Adverse Effects
Pain is something that most people will face at one time or another during their lifetime. Chronic pain (defined as pain that lasts at least 12 weeks) affects an estimated 20 percent of the United States population or 50 million people. Unlike acute pain that typically lasts for a short period following an injury or trauma, chronic pain can last for weeks, months, or even years. Living with chronic pain is difficult. It can affect many different aspects of your life, including relationships and a person’s overall happiness. Because of this, it is no wonder many people turn to pain medications to find relief. Although pain medications have indeed been around for thousands of years in some capacity, in recent years, they have caused an epidemic. The opioid epidemic is particularly disturbing and highlights many of the dangers of pain medications.
Today, we are going to take a closer look at the pros and cons of pain medications as well as safe alternatives to managing chronic pain. At Texas Partners Healthcare Group, we understand how debilitating it can be to live with pain. However, turning to drugs to manage your symptoms isn’t always the right answer. There are numerous alternatives available that have proven to be both safe and highly effective, such as stem cell therapy and other forms of regenerative medicine. While individual circumstances call for opiates, many conditions and injuries are treated with more accuracy and a higher success rate using alternative therapies. If you are living in pain or if you’ve suffered an injury, give Texas Partners Healthcare Group a call. Our team is here to help you by creating a personalized treatment plan that works for you.
Understanding the Opioid Epidemic
Before we look at the pros and cons of pain medication, we need to discuss the current opioid epidemic briefly. In the late 1990s, large pharmaceutical companies overseas and here in the United States increased the production of opioids. This coincided with the illegal opium trade boom. Several new painkillers were approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by the end of the 1990s:
- Vicodin (1984)
- OxyContin (1995)
- Percocet (1999)
All of these were synthetic opiates that mimic the body’s pain receptors.
What are opiates?
Opiates were initially derived from the opium poppy. People have used them for centuries, both recreationally and medicinally. There are several different types of opioids, also referred to as narcotics:
- Naturally occurring – Opium, morphine, codeine, heroin
- Opiate derivatives – Hydrocodone (Vicodin) and oxycodone (Percocet)
- Human-made opioids – Methadone and Fentanyl
Opiates bind to the opiate receptors in the brain, and different types of drugs can act as agonists or antagonists. Opioids are known for their pain-numbing effects and change the composition of the brain, interfering with its ability to recognize pain. This is why so many people living in chronic pain turn to opioids for relief.
One of the most significant turning points was again in the 1990s when large pharmaceutical companies started reassuring the medical community that these drugs were completely safe, and “patients would not become addicted.” Sadly, we now know that this is not the case. Here are a few statistics about the opioid epidemic:
- In 2017, more than 47,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose
- Also in 2017, over 1.7 million Americans were diagnosed with substance abuse disorders related to prescription pain medications
- Approximately 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them
- An estimated eight and 12 percent of patients develop an opioid problem
- 80 percent of heroin users misused prescription opioids first
- Opioid overdoses increased by 30 percent from July 2016 to September 2017
- The Midwest saw opioid overdoses increase by 70 percent during this period
- On average, 130 people die every single day from an opioid overdose
Pros of Taking Pain Meds
Pain medications have a complicated history, especially in the United States. Although many opiates are naturally derived and have been used for thousands of years to manage chronic pain symptoms, today, they are quite controversial. Although opioids are currently at the center of considerable controversy, they have helped many people find relief from chronic pain when used correctly. Here are some of the pros of taking pain meds:
- Effectively treat inflammation and conditions, such as chronic headaches, arthritis pain, and fever
- Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications can help ease mild to moderate pain
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) like acetaminophen can lower swelling and ease the pain when taken in low doses for short periods
- Provide relief quickly
- Can treat many different types of pain
Cons of Taking Pain Meds
As with any drug you take, understanding the risks is imperative. Some of the cons of taking pain medications include:
- Opioids can be dangerous to the brain and gastrointestinal system
- Addiction is very likely
- A fatal overdose can happen even with low doses, especially when combined with other dangerous drugs
- Some pain medications could increase the risk of dementia
- Opioids can make you tired, affect your ability to think clearly, and cause constipation and nausea
Treat Pain Naturally
Today experts, researchers, and patients alike are turning to natural alternatives to treat a wide range of chronic conditions. Many foods fight inflammation naturally, so one option is to make dietary changes. Let’s now look at a handful of other options for effectively treating pain naturally:
- Stem cell therapy
- Ketamine injections
- Chiropractic care
- Massage therapy and yoga
- Physical therapy
- Herbs like turmeric, feverfew, capsaicin, and ginger
- Amniotic fluid injections
- Essential oils, like rosemary and lavender
If you have questions about any of the above or if you would like to learn more about alternatives to pain medication, please contact Texas Partners Healthcare Group today. Our team is here to help you develop a pain management treatment plan that works for you. While pain drugs may be necessary for some situations, we encourage you to explore the above options first.