Alternatives to Opioids for Pain
According to the Journal of Neuroscience, around 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, half of them experiencing significant or severe pain. In some of these cases, opioids are the best and sometimes, the only choice for pain relief, but for many people, opioid alternatives have the potential to effectively treat pain without the high risks associated with opioid painkillers.
Despite an ever-growing list of effective opioid alternatives for pain management, opioid pain medications continue to be over-prescribed, fueling the opioid crisis, which costs 115 lives each day due to overdose. Here, we look at the risks opioids pose and the alternatives to opioids that are increasingly being used to manage even severe pain.
The Scope of Opioid Painkiller Use in America
The United States accounts for 4.6 percent of the world’s population, but we consume 80 percent of the world’s opioid pain medications. Although the prescribing rate for opioids dropped 19 percent between 2010 and 2015, the length of opioid prescriptions increased from an average of 13 days in 2006 to 18 days in 2015, according to a 2017 study by the Centers for Disease Control.1 This extends the length of exposure and increases the risk of diversion and abuse.
Despite the recent dip in the prescribing rate, doctors are still prescribing three times more opioids than they did in 1999, even though Americans’ perception of pain hasn’t changed in that time. A University of Michigan study found that after laparoscopic gallbladder surgery, physicians prescribed anywhere from 15 to 120 pills.2 Remarkably, participants used, on average, a total of six pills to manage their pain after surgery.
As a result of this type of over-prescribing, around 3.3 billion pills end up unused each year, and a large number of these find their way onto the street or into the hands of someone who will abuse them. The current opioid crisis has claimed nearly as many American lives as the Vietnam War.
Opioid Abuse, Addiction and Dependence
Opioid abuse isn’t the same thing as addiction or dependence. Abuse is characterized by using opioids in a way other than as prescribed, such as taking higher doses, taking someone else’s medication or taking opioids for non-medical reasons.
According to the 2012 National Health Interview Survey, two-thirds of people who abused opioids that year did so to reduce their pain. Only 10 percent of participants said they abused opioids to get high.3Whatever the reasons for abusing opioids, abuse can quickly transition to addiction and dependence.
Addiction is the result of complex changes in the brain’s chemical functions and physical structures caused by heavy substance abuse. It’s characterized by compulsive drug use despite the negative consequences it causes. It affects thought and behavior patterns.
Dependence typically co-occurs with addiction, but not always. Opioid dependence is purely physical, characterized by withdrawal symptoms that set in when you suddenly stop using opioids. Physical withdrawal symptoms include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Other flu-like symptoms
Because of the high risk of abuse, addiction and dependence associated with opioids, it’s always best to choose opioid alternatives to pain management whenever possible.
Ready to find a safer way to manage pain? Contact us at (855)475-3547
A Stepped-Care Approach to Pain Management
Managing Pain Without Opioids
Manage pain without the risk of addiction. Contact us at (855)475-3547