A recent US study has highlighted the dangers of opioid abuse in chronic pain management.
Data from American Addiction Centres shows approximately 1.2 million people will die from an opioid overdose by the end of the current decade. Yet, opioids continue to be a leading treatment for chronic pain.
Here, we look at what opioids are, their use in chronic pain management, and what options patients have if they develop an opioid use disorder.
What are opioids?
Opioids are a class of powerful pain-relieving medications that have been widely used for the management of chronic pain. They work by binding to specific receptors in the brain and spinal cord, reducing the perception of pain.
The medications are highly effective at relieving severe pain, but their use for chronic pain management has been a topic of controversy.
They have been used for many years to manage pain caused by chronic conditions such as back pain, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia. However, with increasing frequency of use alongside long-term use, concerns have been raised about the potential risks associated with opioids. These include addiction, overdose, and complications like respiratory depression.
The dangers of opioid use in the management of chronic pain
Although opioids can be an effective pain-relieving treatment for chronic pain, they pose several serious health concerns. These include:
- Addiction: One of the most significant dangers of opioids is addiction. People who use opioids for a prolonged period may develop physical dependence on the drugs, which means that they will experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking them.
- Overdose: Opioids can cause respiratory depression, which means that they can slow down or even stop a person’s breathing. This can lead to an overdose, which can be fatal.
- Tolerance: With prolonged use of opioids, the body becomes accustomed to the drugs. This can lead to tolerance, which means that a person will need to take higher doses of the drug to achieve the same effects.
- Interactions with other medication: Taking opioids with certain types of medication, such as sedatives, can increase the risk of serious side effects, including breathing problems and sedation.
- Withdrawal: If someone stop using opioids suddenly after a period of heavy use, it can cause unpleasant and sometimes severe withdrawal symptoms, such as restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhoea, vomiting, cold flashes with goosebumps, and involuntary leg movements
- Long term effects: Chronic use of opioids can also lead to a number of other negative health effects such as constipation, sleep apnoea, low testosterone levels, sexual dysfunction, and depression.
Despite these concerns, there are still many patients with chronic pain who can benefit from opioid therapy when used appropriately, with close monitoring by healthcare providers. It is important to consider the potential risks and benefits of opioid therapy on a case-by-case basis, and to carefully monitor patients for potential adverse effects.
Help when you have an opioid use disorder
If you do develop an opioid use disorder and you are suffering with chronic pain, help is available.
Dr Stoilova has got extensive expertise in managing patients with chronic pain and opioid misuse disorder. You will be able to book an appointment to discuss this problem. You will also be thoroughly assessed, and the steps of the management plan will be discussed and implemented.