Opioid addiction is a major public health concern in the U.S. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2016 alone, nearly 65,000 people died as a result of opioid drug overdoses – that’s more than the number of Americans who were killed during the entire Vietnam War. While other drugs also cause overdoses in the U.S., the CDC says about three-quarters of all drug overdose fatalities are caused by opioids, a type of painkiller drug that includes both illegal drugs like heroin and fentanyl as well as prescription painkillers like OxyContin.
While you might assume most opioid-related deaths can be attributed to illegal drugs like heroin, in fact it’s the overabundance – and overprescribing – of prescription opioid painkillers that’s at the heart of the recent increase in fatal overdoses. A couple of decades ago, opioid painkillers were primarily prescribed for patients with significant and debilitating pain – most often men and women with advanced-stage cancer. But during the past 10-20 years, there’s been a dramatic increase in the use of these medications as both doctors and patients have become more tolerant – even accepting – of their use. Today, the CDC reports about one in five patients with a non-cancer pain diagnosis are prescribed painkillers, even though there’s little research substantiating that these medications are more effective than non-opioid medicines in these cases.
In fact, a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that non-opioid pain medications like Tylenol and Advil can be just as effective – or even more effective – in many types of pain management. That study looked at 411 emergency room patients with limb pain due to sprains, fractures and other injuries, and compared the effectiveness of different opioid pain relievers with a simple combination of Tylenol and Advil. Patients were asked to assess their pain levels before medication and after. At the end of the study period, the researchers found the combination of Tylenol and Advil was just as effective in treating and relieving pain as any of the three opioid alternatives that were also studied.
The “take-away” message is this: While opioids certainly have a place in the treatment of some types of severe pain, many patients can find the same level of relief without turning to potentially addictive drugs. If you’re suffering from chronic pain, you owe it to yourself – and your health – to consider alternative types of pain management that don’t involve opioid medications. Seeing a pain specialist allows you to explore your alternatives to find an ideal solution that’s custom-tailored specifically to your injury, your level of pain and your health.
The Minimally Invasive Spine Institute Pain Relief are pioneers of minimally invasive research and are experts in advanced, noninvasive pain management techniques. If you are a chronic pain sufferer, contact our team today to schedule a consultation with one of our pain management specialists.