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Opiate Painkillers May Not Be The Answer For Chronic Pain

In the United States, it has become the norm to expect medication every time you visit your doctor. When you suffer from chronic pain, and visit the doctor, most expect to be prescribed a pain medication, usually in the form of opiates.  According to the American Academy of Neurology opiates do not do much to help patients with back pain, headaches and migraines. Where there is evidence for significant short-term pain relief, there is no substantial evidence for maintenance of pain relief or improved function over long periods of time without incurring serious risk of overdose, dependence, or addiction. Laws and regulations changed in the late 1990s, dramatically liberalizing the use of opiates for chronic non-cancer pain based on “model” guidelines put forward by groups advocating for much more open-minded use of opiates.

Dr. Gary Franklin is a research professor in the departments of occupational and environmental health sciences and neurology. Dr. Franklin wrote about many of the unintentional overdoses that were caused directly or indirectly, from prescribed opiates. His paper said that in most cases, the medications may put an end to some pain, but don't better a patient's health. With addiction and overdoses becoming rampant, he advised doctors to seek alternative ways to help patients with pain management. "This is the first position paper by a major American specialty society saying that there is a real problem here and the risk might not be worth the benefit for certain conditions," says Franklin.  States once had strict controls over who could prescribe and be prescribed such drugs, but the rules were loosened once advocates and lobbyists complained that people in chronic pain needed help managing their symptoms.

The new statement builds upon a 2003 study in the New England Journal of Medicine saying that despite high levels of opiate prescriptions, people with chronic pain were not improving. "For 20 years they have been taught that everybody deserves an opiate, because they really don't know what else to do," says author, Dr. Jane Ballantyne, a professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at the University of Washington. "It's a cultural thing and it's hard to reverse that. A lot of chronic pain isn't appropriate for opiates." Franklin recommended stricter watch over physicians who prescribe opiates and different approaches to pain management, which should be covered by insurance.

It is important that we start to educate our society on the dangers of these drugs. It is especially important to teach patients the risks of these drugs if they are sufferers of chronic pain and explain to them that there are other options available. More information that releases the truth that long term opiate use is not beneficial to the patient needs to be published and more studies need to take place. It is very important to note that more than 100,000 people have died from prescription opiates since the 1990s. Those numbers should be a great cause for concern.


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