Opioids require strict management

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Opioids require strict management

Given the nation’s opioid epidemic, some may contend the pain-killing drugs should be avoided under any circumstance. However, opioids can be beneficial for treating moderate-to-severe pain when prescribed by a medical professional.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioid pain relievers are generally safe when taken for a short time. While finding alternatives to opioids is the best option, some medical instances do merit their use. They often are prescribed following a surgery, injury, or for certain health conditions. Because they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief, their highly addictive nature can easily lead to misuse, dependence, overdose, and even death.

Sometimes called narcotics, opioids are used to manage pain by blocking pain signals between the brain and body. Opioids include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, and prescription pain relievers, such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco), codeine, morphine, and others.

When opioids are used for acute pain, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends clinicians prescribe the lowest effective dose of immediate-release opioids. Three days or less is often sufficient, while more than seven days is rarely needed. High dosages of opioids and long-term use pose serious risks of opioid use disorder and overdose, the CDC states.

Before taking opioids for chronic pain (pain that lasts for more than three months), the CDC recommends patients do the following:

  • Consider ways to manage pain that do not include opioids, such as physical therapy, exercise, non-opioid medications (ie, acetaminophen, ibuprofen), or cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Learn about prescription opioids and know the risks
  • Make the most informed decision with their providers