The growing problem – and national conversation – of opioid addiction may be affecting the way you think about your own health care. Like many people, you may feel nervous about taking pain medication when you need it.
As doctors and leaders in healthcare and government work together to address the crisis, it may help you to know how doctors and pharmacists address opioid prescriptions, and some other alternatives to managing your pain.
Acute moderate to severe pain, especially after surgery or a severe injury, may require a short course of immediate-acting opioids for pain management, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine. To help prevent misuse, it’s important to limit how long the drug is used and to use the lowest possible dose that will treat the pain. Opioids also may be necessary when a person has cancer-related pain, is receiving palliative care, or has pain at the end of life.
For chronic pain – back pain, osteoarthritis, neuropathic pain – recommended treatment is non-opioid medications. Depending on the type of pain, non-opioid medications that can help include acetaminophen; NSAIDs (naproxen, ibuprofen, celecoxib); gabapentin or pregabalin; certain antidepressants; injectable steroids; and topical medications (lidocaine, capsaicin, diclofenac).
Non-drug treatments can help, too: physical therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, massage, acupuncture, exercise, even weight loss. Your provider can work with you to set a treatment plan that works best for you.
To help prevent opioid misuse and addiction, doctors and pharmacists monitor opioid prescriptions through the state-regulated Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, an electronic database that tracks controlled substance prescriptions across the state. Doctors and pharmacists can review each patient’s previous opioid prescriptions and look for overlapping prescriptions, multiple prescribers, and dangerous combinations.
Meanwhile, pharmacies, states, and Medicare have begun limiting how much opioid is dispensed per prescription. Fifteen states and Medicare now limit prescriptions to seven days or less; six states allow five days or less. Minnesota limits opioid prescriptions to four days. (A health care provider can request more if needed.)
Whenever an opioid is prescribed for you, it is important to understand how to take it and discuss the side effects and risks with your doctor and your pharmacist.
If you have concerns about opioids as part of pain management for you or a loved one, talk to your provider.