Addiction to Pain Medications

Alternatives to Managing Pain.

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The problems with pain medications are not new ones. The epidemic that many talk of in terms of opioid addiction is real. Many states in response to this problem have created new guidelines and requirements for the prescription of these medications. Some physicians have simply stopped prescribing them because they may not agree with or want to work with the new guidelines. This has left some patients without a prescriber.

A few months ago I posted a blog about non-pharmaceutical interventions for the treatment of chronic pain. The response to that blog was in general positive, but I got a number of angry responses from people who felt I was saying that pain medication should be replaced with these non-pharmaceutical interventions. That is not what I was saying. Unfortunately, people can become so dependent upon these medications they firmly believe there is no way they could manage without them. And for some that may be true.

Here’s the challenge I would like for you to respond to. Your doctor has been pushing you to find methods of coping with your chronic pain with less medication. She is concerned about the addictive quality of your medication. She’s a general practitioner and your specialist prescribes your pain medication. You are concerned about addiction as well, but you cannot imagine a quality life without your pain medication. Your primary care physician has decided to discharge you after you failed to show up for a number of appointments with her.

So what would you do? You are concerned about addiction as well. You would like to learn other ways of managing your pain if you could, but you’re not sure what your primary care physician or the specialist who is treating you is referring to when they talk to you about finding “other methods” of dealing with your pain.

As with most situations connecting and communicating with others is critical. Ask your primary care physician if she will see you again and that you would like to understand more about what her concerns are and what the options are for dealing with the pain with less medication. Ask your specialist what these other methods are.

Unfortunately, many physicians are not really aware of options other than writing a script. But there are other options such as cognitive behavioral therapy which utilizes the power of your mind to manage and control the pain. Physical therapy and exercise can also be helpful. Acupuncture and chiropractics also have been used in the treatment of chronic pain, as well as massage. But ask questions. Get more information about these other methods.

Manage the fear that you may have about giving up your pain medication or taking less. Remember your physician was only talking about you using less medication. Problem solve. Be flexible. If you are to find other ways of managing the pain you have to be willing to try these out. Be willing to do something new and different. In general, people need to take more control over managing their health. They need to be active partners in their care. Asking questions, getting more information and finding other ways to exert control over the pain can be part of that.

Providers also need to have a role in this. Those who provide non-pharmaceutical interventions such as psychologists, physical therapists, acupuncturists, and others need to inform and educate other healthcare providers about how these interventions can complement the use of pain medications and perhaps can allow physicians and patients to feel more comfortable prescribing less or using these options in the beginning to treat chronic pain.

We will be talking more about chronic pain and its treatment in the future.

Photo pf Ron Breazeale, Ph,D.
Ron Breazeale, Ph.D.