The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued their first guideline asking doctors to exercise caution when prescribing addicting opioid painkillers.
A few issues could have led to the guideline’s issuance including: the United States consumes 80 percent of the world’s opioids and 99 percent of the world’s hydrocodone. Also, deaths attributed to opioid overdose reached an alarming record number in 2014, and previous misusage of opioids was a strong risk factor in heroin introduction.
Opioids are common prescription pain relievers. They include Vicodin, OxyCotin, Percocet and morphine. In addition to being highly addicting, they can cause a variety of side effects, both short-term and long-term.
Short-term side effects can include drowsiness, constipation, nausea, slowed breathing and unconsciousness. Long-term effects can include immunosuppression, reduced energy and drive, reduced fertility and abnormal pain sensitivity.
What can we do to help?
While we work on changing the culture of pain management, there are some things being done at Via Christi that mirror the CDC’s recommendations.
When a patient is suffering from chronic pain, we try a variety of options before prescribing an opioid. The possibilities will vary based on an understanding of the individual and their pain. In some situations, physical or occupational therapy can help reduce the pain issues. At times, just getting out and walking around and getting exercise helps.
If a medication needs to be prescribed, large doses of ibuprofen or Tylenol should be tried first. In complicated cases a pain psychologist can be consulted. Pain can manifest itself in different ways, namely in physical, emotional and psychological forms. A psychologist can help teach coping methods.
While this is a complicated issue, there are some promising steps being taken. In the end, it is about changing the culture of pain management which can take time, but a multidisciplinary approach is the way forward.