Opioids— drugs like OxyContin® and Percocet® — are powerful painkillers. But opioids aren’t usually best for chronic pain.
It wasn’t always that way. From late 1980s through early 2000s, physicians tried to improve the way they treated chronic pain by prescribing opioids for more people. They believed that by taking the highly addictive drugs only as prescribed, patients wouldn’t become addicted. This thinking was quickly proved wrong.
“Reality caught up with us,” says Dr. Rosenquist. “Over the years, we learned that dependence on opioids develops quickly.”
The consequences have been making headlines ever since. Just a few examples include:
These powerful pain killers aren’t only highly addictive. Experts also learned that they:
Opioids are best for treating short-term pain. For chronic pain, Cleveland Clinic physicians prescribe them only for cancer pain or when other treatments don’t work. Even then, they’re used only in low doses. Plus, they are continued only if the patient’s function (not just their level of pain) improves.
If you’ve taken these pain killers for a long time, see a pain management specialist. He or she can re-evaluate the cause of your pain.
“If you were taking antibiotics for a urinary tract infection but your infection wasn’t going away, you’d stop using the antibiotics and try something else,” says Dr. Rosenquist. “The same is true with opioids and chronic pain.”
Pain management specialists can offer an array of other more potentially successful treatments — with fewer side effects.