Popping pills for pains?

Prescription Drugs

Photo credit: Irene Miranda, used with permission under Creative Commons license..

By pH health care professionals

The U.S. is one of the richest, most privileged countries in the world — and also the most avid consumers of pain pills, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control. We take twice as many opioid pain-relievers per person as Canada does (they are #2 on the dubious list of pill-popping nations).

If you think that it’s pretty unlikely that all those oxycodones can be justified by tooth extractions and bone cancer, you’d be right. Recreational drug use (taking the pills to score a “high”), inappropriate prescribing by doctors, and opiate addiction and dependence play a role.

The CDC tells us that in 2012, 46 Americans died every day from a preventable opioid overdose. Continuing the discussion, the Los Angeles Times even published a series of special reports on doctors who were arrested or disciplined in opiate-related overdose deaths in patients.

How do people end up on these medications, anyway?

For many, it starts with a surgical procedure. Patients go home from small and big surgeries with post-op instructions and a prescription for a pain-reliever. While an attentive surgeon, working with the primary care doctor, would try to taper the patient off opiates as soon as possible (by using anti-inflammatories or an acetaminophen like Tylenol, for example), rushed doctors will sometimes do a quick refill in lieu of a longer conversation about pain.

In other instances, patients are afraid of stopping the medication and experiencing the pain. Too much time on an opiate, though, and the brain starts to “need” it — this is how dependence and addiction begin. It’s no longer about the pain — it’s about the high and the neurochemical reward.

Other patients don’t get the right treatment or evaluation for a simple medical problem and end up addicted to medication they didn’t need in the first place. Take most instances of back pain, for example, which may simply require stretching, posture correction, exercise, spinal manipulation and/or physical therapy. Figuring out the root cause of the pain may take time. 

But the allure of opiates is that they work for all types of back pain. If the patient is pushing the doctor for something strong, and the office is behind schedule, some doctors will skip the exam and evaluation for the easy way out. This means less time spent convincing a potentially angry patient that he doesn’t need a controlled substance to treat his pain.

When should you take opiate medications?

Remember that these pills act to “fool” your brain into thinking that there is no pain. They are doing absolutely nothing to stop the root cause of your pain. If you have pain in a localized area due to a muscle injury, higher doses of acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen are almost always effective. 

Many patients find success by using complementary medicine, like magnesium gels, arnica and capsaicin, and by attending yoga or physical therapy. The same goes for headaches and unexplained aches and pains. For these, your doctor should also be checking for underlying conditions to explain your pain.  However, the pain from cancer, fractures and major surgery is so severe that opiates are seen as appropriate medical care.

When you’ve exhausted the possible doses of non-opiates, that’s when it’s time to talk to your doctor about the stronger medications. Don’t mix them with sleeping pills and sedatives, as there are many natural treatments that can take the place of addictive and potentially dangerous calming drugs (benzodiazepines).

Realize that opiates come with a whole host of side effects, such as sedation, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, constipation, physical dependence, tolerance, and respiratory depression

Most importantly, check in with your doctor regularly about the appropriateness of your dose and medication schedule. A great doctor will carefully consider the best options for safe pain control and get you back to being opiate-free.

Call us today at 855-PHLABS1 to schedule your consultation with one of our pH doctors, who will work with you to determine the root cause of any underlying issues and review your pain pills with you.

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.

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