If you suffer from chronic pain, you know that the search for lasting relief is challenging. Chronic pain interferes with your ability to partake in everyday activities and enjoy life on your terms.
Normal pain can often be treated with analgesics and over-the-counter medications, but chronic pain is not always as easily treated. Chronic pain often requires different, more powerful treatment, including the use of opioid medications to reduce the effects of the pain.
How Opioids Work
Opioids are a class of drugs that work by attaching themselves to opioid receptors in the brain and other areas of the body. In doing so, opioids block the body’s pain signals from being sent to the brain, thus masking such pain. They also release large amounts of dopamine throughout the body, which can make people feel relaxed and happy.
Popular opioids include hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), oxymorphone (Opana), morphine, codeine, fentanyl, and heroin. Because of their potency and addictive properties, opioids are classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as controlled substances. Possession of controlled substances without a physician’s prescription is illegal.
Opioids = Effective Chronic Pain Relief
Pain experts know that opioids can be highly effective in blocking the persistent effects of chronic pain. The providers at Valley Medical and Wellness agree that if opioids are taken in prescribed doses and as instructed, they can help patients suffering from severe and chronic pain.
When opioids are used for an extended period to manage long-term pain, however, patients are at risk of developing an opioid addiction. Addiction can also happen if illegal opioids are taken without a physician’s supervision. For this reason, opioids are best taken only under the strict supervision of a doctor.
Risks of Opioid Use
Opioid use, even when prescribed by a physician or advanced practice provider, carries with it some risk. When not properly managed, the use of opioids to treat chronic pain can result in respiratory distress, constipation, nausea, and vomiting. In addition, patients who use opioids may, over time, develop a tolerance to the drug. This could result in needing higher doses to maintain the same level of pain release, which can also increase the risk of opioid dependence and addiction.
Opioid withdrawal is another potential issue for patients to deal with. If an individual suddenly stops using an opioid, they can suffer withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, insomnia, muscle aches, and sweating. Discontinuing opioid use, then, requires a gradual tapering of the drug’s intake.
Prescribing Opioids Safely and Responsibly
One way to reduce the risks associated with opioid use is to precisely control the dosage of opioids prescribed. By considering each patient’s genetic makeup, lifestyle, and susceptibility to side effects, physicians can prescribe the proper dosage that maximizes relief while minimizing the potential for addiction and other side effects.
Another approach is to prescribe opioids that have fewer side effects and are less addictive. For example, buprenorphine is an opioid that binds to the opioid receptors in the brain in a different way than other opioids, rendering it safe for long periods while reducing the risk of opioid tolerance. Suboxone® goes a step further by combining buprenorphine with naloxone, a drug typically used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
Valley Medical and Wellness is one of the few clinics in Minnesota to offer buprenorphine treatment for both chronic pain and opioid addiction. Patients who have switched to buprenorphine from other opioid medications often see impressive results, reduced pain, and improved quality of life. It’s an effective option when used alongside other pain management therapies.