The opioid abuse epidemic in the United States has reached critical levels, claiming lives and affecting communities across the country. While we have ventured to spread awareness and provide educational material regarding opioid abuse, it’s difficult to address the issue without also recognizing that these powerful painkillers are, for some, medical necessities.
Or, so we are often lead to believe.
Throughout our coverage of the opioid abuse epidemic we have been contacted on several occasions through our comments by people who suffer from chronic pain disorders or other medical conditions requiring use of opioid medications like Fentanyl. Opioids for chronic pain conditions are a primary reason drugs like Fentanyl are not outright banned in this country, despite the risks they pose for abuse and overdose.
As we know by now, Fentanyl is a leading contributor to the severe increase in heroin overdose deaths of the last few years. This is due to Fentanyl being used to cut heroin supplies by drug traffickers. Traditionally, Fentanyl is only used in severe cases such as following extensive surgery and for late-stage cancer treatment. However, with illicit drug smuggling from China flooding the streets with this powerful opioid, it has quickly become a public menace.
So what do we do when one one hand we have a serious misuse and abuse problem and on the other we have patients who rely on powerful opioids for chronic pain relief?
We talk to those patients. As it turns out, many of them are iffy about taking opioid pain relievers, too.
A new study shows that not only are people reluctant to take prescription opioids due to fear of addiction and other negative side effects, but for many they are less than effective. In fact, of the 2000 people surveyed who suffered from chronic lower back pain, only 13 percent said the opioid medications were very effective in treating their pain. 44 percent reported the painkillers were somewhat successful; 31 percent said there was moderate success, and 12 percent reported they weren’t successful at all.
With the dangers related to opioid use being so high, is the payoff worth it when some 43 percent of those surveyed were still suffering regardless of the medication?
Beyond that, many reported feeling ashamed due to the stigmas associated with using opioid drugs- much of which stem from an assumption regarding addiction or substance abuse. While of course not all who use opioid pain medications are addicted to the pills, drugs like Fentanyl do carry a high chance of developing dependence.
Dr. Asokumar Buvanendran, the author of the survey, stated:
“Patients are increasingly aware that opioids are problematic, but they don’t know there are alternative treatment options…while some patients may benefit from opioids for severe pain for a few days after an injury, physicians need to wean their patients off them and use multi-modal therapies instead.”
If the current opioid abuse crisis is negatively affecting you in your ability to manage your pain, please seek alternative medical advice from your doctors. Express your concerns about the dangers of opioids and be adamant as your own advocate for care. There are alternatives available that are more effective than these potentially lethal medications.