4 Factors To Consider Before Taking Prescription Painkillers
As if it wasn’t in the news enough, the death of the artist Prince has brought use of prescription painkillers to the forefront of news headlines. His case likely mirrors the same problem that many Americans are battling with – live with pain, or live with potential addiction and the risk of overdose.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014 nearly 2 million Americans abused or became addicted to painkillers. The results? At least 14,000 died from overdose involving opioids, such as Percocet or OxyContin.
So, then how does one go about making this decision? As a start, if your physician is considering prescribing you painkillers, you should strongly consider the following factors before you make a final decision.
Your Propensity for Addiction
If you or someone near in your family has a history of substance abuse, including both legal and illegal drugs, you may have a higher risk for becoming addicted to painkillers. That’s a really broad spectrum, unfortunately – moreover, many, many people have had someone closely related to them become addicted to…something.
But realistically, if you have had an alcohol or drug addiction in the past, it probably isn’t the best idea. This is common sense. But then again, nothing about addiction is common sense. That is why you have to be hypervigilant about your own health.
In addition, if you have a history of mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, you may also be more prone to dependency on a substance,
Opioids are very good pain relievers, but should only be used in the short term, end-of-life scenarios, and for very serious conditions such as cancer. In the short-term, they may be helpful for post-surgery or injuries.
However, for chronic pain, such as migraine headaches, back back, they are very risky. The longer you are using painkillers, the more dependent on them you are likely to become. In addition, tolerance builds, meaning that the dose you used to be taking isn’t doing its job any longer.
Experts say that severe withdrawal symptoms can manifest if you take opioid painkillers for longer than 3 months. In addition, there is insufficient evidence for their effectiveness for these scenarios. In fact, they can even make pain worse.
Alternative medicine include anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium (i.e. Alleve). If this sounds like undertreatment, it might be. You have to consider the source of your pain, as well. For example, back pain can be treated through chiropractic services. Other types of pain are candidates for physical therapy and holistic treatments, such as acupuncture or massage. Anything is worth at least trying.
Length of Prescription and Dosage
Opioids can be helpful for short-term effectiveness, but you need to be aware of how long you should actually be taking them – particularly what the doctor foresees for you.
Short-term acute pain, which might happen due to a sudden injury, should only be treated with opioid painkillers for just a few days. Most experts say over a week is excessive. However, many doctors prescribe these drugs for acute pain in durations of 2-4 weeks. This is long enough to cause addiction.
Also, ask your doctors if the dosage he or she intends to prescribe is the lowest that may be therapeutic. Over-treating pain is the worst approach you could take when using painkillers. As the CDC puts it, doctors should “start low and go slow.”
Is There A Plan For Addiction or Tapering?
If opioids are a long-term viable option for you, you need to communicate with your doctor about plans to help you ween off the drug. Similarly, what is the protocol if you do end up getting addicted? This is the one and only point in the process where you can truly be your own advocate and also have some control on the outcome of painkiller use.
Being abruptly pulled off opioids has, in part, caused the nationwide heroin epidemic. If you are dependent on a drug, and it is removed too quickly, the likelihood of seeking out other substances to fill the void is great. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, 4 in 5 new heroin user say they were first addicted to opioids.
And finally, if you are considering taking opioids for chronic pain, the CDC has issued guidelines which may be helpful for you and your doctor to determine what is most appropriate for your situation.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, Psychology
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