Are Opioids Overprescribed for Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain affects more Americans than ever before, but we might be doing more harm than good the way we treat it. Any pain symptoms lasting six months or longer are deemed chronic pain.
There are more than 100 million people suffering from chronic pain symptoms in America, which is about one in every three Americans (WebMD, “Chronic pain management”).
Prescription pain medication is a typical treatment for these conditions, but there is a growing concern in the medical community that doctors are heavily relying on opioids and causing patients more harm in the long run.
The opioid epidemic
Medical researchers investigating opioid prescriptions have uncovered a troubling lack of data on its effectiveness in the treatment of a chronic pain. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found no trials or studies meeting its criteria that test how opioids perform in comparison to other chronic pain treatments. The agency concluded that there is no adequate evidence proving that opioids meet chronic pain patients’ needs or improve their quality of life (National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Opioids and chronic pain—A gap in our knowledge”).
There is, however, growing evidence showing that some patients who receive long-term opioid treatment may experience hyperalgesia, which is an increase in pain sensitivity. Rather than treat patients’ pain symptoms, opioids may in some cases cause more pain in the long term. In spite of this troubling evidence, opioid prescriptions for chronic pain have tripled over the last 20 years.
Dangers of opioid treatment
As opioid prescription and use has increased, deaths due to its overdose have also skyrocketed. Opioid overdoses now kill more people in the United States than those caused by all other drugs combined. Painkillers can have a wide range of side effects on the human body, making long-term opioid therapy for chronic conditions very dangerous even when used responsibly. But chronic pain patients only account for a fraction of those who suffer from opioid abuse.
Most opioid abusers are addicts who have acquired the drugs illegally. Pain medication has become one of the most popular recreational drugs due to their euphoric effects, and abuse of opioids quickly leads to addiction. As addicts use more and more prescription painkillers, they can develop a tolerance and begin taking unsafe dosages of the drug to experience the same powerful highs. Overdosing on opioids kills more than 20,000 people a year (National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Overdose death rates”).
As medical conditions like diabetes, heart disorders and cancer become more prevalent, the problem of chronic pain will only grow worse. Until doctors discover a safer alternative to opioid treatment, people will have to remain vigilant toward the signs of painkiller abuse around them. If you or someone you know may be addicted to opioids, take action quickly.
The Prescription Drug Abuse Helpline of California is committed to connecting you or a loved one with the best prescription drug rehab centers in California that offer a treatment plan suiting your individual needs. In any case, our priority is always the patient. If you have made the decision to reclaim your life from addiction, a prescription drug rehab in California will help you every step of the way. For information and advice on how to take the next step, call us now at 855-738-2770.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrew Peter is associated with Prescription Drug Abuse Helpline of California for many years. The Prescription Drug Abuse Helpline of California provides assistance in finding prescription drug rehab centers in California.