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Opioid Awareness

Jul 07, 2021
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In the 1990s, medical providers liberally prescribed opioids, believing them to be an effective and safe route to manage pain. We now understand that there are some serious risks with opioids, and we discuss them here.

Pain management has always been a complex riddle, so when a solution came along that provided immediate relief, medical providers were cautiously optimistic. In the case of opioids, the caution was very much warranted as the risks of taking opioids for pain relief began to reveal themselves.

At Commonwealth Pain & Spine, our team of highly qualified pain management specialists stays abreast of the latest research when it comes to opioids and we’re, understandably, concerned.

To help you understand the potential risks of taking opioids, we’re taking this opportunity to increase awareness when it comes to this approach to pain relief.

The modern history of opioids for pain management

Opioid-based pain relief is by no means new and has been used for centuries, if not millennia, to help relieve pain. In terms of modern medicine, opioid medications rose in popularity as effective painkillers during the 1990s as pharmaceutical companies denied that the drugs carried any risks for addiction.

Within a very short time, this assertion proved to be incorrect, and the United States saw unprecedented numbers in terms of addiction related to opioids and subsequent death rates due to overdose that reached almost 50,000 per year.

All too soon, the problem was labeled a crisis, and the medical world worked toward a new understanding about the safe use of opioids.

Why are opioids addictive?

The reason opioids are so effective at managing pain is the same reason they’re so addictive. While the processes that occur in your brain when you take opioids are complex, suffice it to say that prolonged opioid use or opioid misuse rearranges neural pathways and affects the communication between cells and production of certain hormones.

For example, one of the biggest problems with opioid use is that it not only relieves pain, but also creates a euphoric effect. Under normal circumstances, your brain addresses pain and stress by producing endorphins, which are also called your “feel-good” hormones.

When you take opioids, you achieve the same effect, so your brain suppresses endorphin production in favor of the newly introduced drug.

As a result, you’re left with uncontrollable cravings for opioids since your brain no longer uses its natural neural pathways and hormones.

To put some numbers to this problem, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports the following:

  • Approximately 21-29% percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them
  • 8-12% of people using an opioid for chronic pain develop an opioid use disorder
  • An estimated 4-6% of those who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin
  • 80% of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids

As you can see, the potential risks of using opioid-based medications are serious.

Can opioids be used safely?

While we’ve presented some very sobering numbers surrounding the potential risks of opioid use, we don’t mean to imply that these are inevitable outcomes.

Opioids can still play a role in managing pain, but it’s important that we monitor and control the use to avoid the pitfalls of addiction. At our practice, we offer medication management services, as well as a wide range of effective pain management options that don’t involve opioids, so that we can help you find relief. 

Our experienced team works to control your pain in a way that doesn't create larger problems down the road.

If you’d like to learn more about opioids, please don’t hesitate to contact one of our 15 locations in St. Matthews, Elizabethtown, Lexington, Crestview Hills, Owensboro, London, Carrollton and Pikeville, Kentucky; Evansville, Vincennes, New Albany,  and Jasper, Indiana; and Mt. Carmel, Illinois,