Opioid Review: A Painless Conversation … about Pain

Opioid Review: A Painless Conversation … about Pain

The treatment of pain has become big news. Over the past year, we’ve learned about the epidemic of overdose deaths in the United States related to opioid pain medications.  And those numbers are serious: per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over 28,000 drug overdose deaths involved an opioid in 2015.1

While the risks of opioids are well documented, the question remains: how do you deal with pain, particularly chronic pain? And what exactly is chronic pain?

  • Chronic pain is usually defined as any pain lasting more than 12 weeks. Whereas acute pain is a normal sensation that alerts us to possible injury, chronic pain is persistent and can last for months or even longer.2
  • Chronic pain can come about in different ways, for instance from an injury, like a back sprain, or it may be the result of an ongoing illness. In either case, chronic pain often limits how well you’re able to get around, which can lead to a decreased enjoyment of life.

How Do I Address Pain with My Doctor?

No matter its cause, chronic pain needs to be addressed in a clear and safe way with your doctor. Whether you’re currently use an opioid or not, here are a few questions to ask your physician:

  • What exactly is the cause of my pain?
  • What type of medication is being used to treat my pain?
  • Are there any dangers to taking my pain medication? Can it be addictive?
  • How long will it take for the medication to work?
  • How long will I be taking the medication for and how will I be monitored?
  • What side effects can I expect?
  • Are there alternative ways of treating my pain?

This last bullet is an important one. The National Institutes of Health tells us that “a growing body of evidence suggests that some complementary approaches, such as acupuncture, hypnosis, massage, spinal manipulation, and yoga, may help to manage some painful conditions.”3

But in the absence of clinical evidence of their benefits, how can you figure out which alternative treatments to try? As always, the first step is to talk with your doctor about a treatment option you’re interested in. Does your provider know if it’s effective? Can they recommend a practitioner in the area?

Another alternative treatment that people frequently explore is herbal and other dietary supplements. This can be a grey area as there are literally thousands of untested products that make all kinds of claims about their efficacy. Again, talk with your doctor. Some supplements can interact with your prescription medications, while others can be misused.

What Should I Do if I’m Concerned That I or Someone I Love is Having a Problem with Addiction?

No matter how you and your doctor decide to treat it, here’s the important thing to remember: your pain needs to be controlled in a way that is safe and effective. By using safety as your starting point, you’ll be able to plan ways to lessen or eliminate your pain.

Most Recent Update: 9/30/2017


  1. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm655051e1.htm?s_cid=mm655051e1_w. Accessed 3/31/2017
  2. https://medlineplus.gov/magazine/issues/spring11/articles/spring11pg5-6.html. Accessed 3/31/2017
  3. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/pain/chronic.htm. Accessed 4/01/2017