The Opioid Pain Medication “Epidemic”

Have you been to your primary care physician or pharmacy recently and not being able to get your opioid pain medication? Or have you felt under pressure because you are taking opioids so you must be a “junkie”?

Well, it is true to say that an “opioid epidemic” has gripped various countries, and has been increasing its toll over the last five years. News accounts are filled with tragic stories almost daily and everybody is pointing the figure at everybody else.

As the international community debate circles around the primary causes and culprits, where do physicians stand on this issue? Especially those physicians who rely on prescription pain medication to legitimately treat patients?

Dr. Dominic Hegarty (Clinical Director to Pain Relief Ireland) understands the issues and has sympathy for all sides; the patient, the physician and the pharmacist. “There is no clinical based evidence to support the long-term use of opioids in chronic pain. In fact reducing opioids can improve your wellbeing such as mood, pain and function”. Only this month Huffman et al. (Pain 2017) once again published more data to support this. “In addition, the concept of opioid-induced hyperalgesia is well documented and a real entity”.

There is no clinical based evidence to support the long-term use of opioids in chronic pain. In fact reducing opioids can improve your wellbeing such as mood, pain and function...

- Dr. Dominic Hegarty (Clinical Director to Pain Relief Ireland)

This is not to say that opioid medication does not have a role to play in helping to control and manage the symptoms of chronic pain. “The concept of using opioids in chronic pain has historically evolved from the management of cancer pain. It worked well for this pain and therefore it was assumed that it would work for chronic pain irrespective of the cause. This has turned out not to be the case”.

A survey of 225 US physicians who specialize in primary care, pain management, and emergency medicine was undertaken by Incrowd. These physicians had an average of 25 years experience and worked in the USA.  They were asked their opinion on the current state of the opioid epidemic, how we got here, and what some potential solutions might be.

The survey focused on what physicians thought was the single biggest factor in the increased abuse of opioid pain medication in the past five years.

The three standout responses were:

  • Physicians over-prescribing pain medication
  • Aggressive drug seeking behaviour by patients
  • Accessibility of pain medication

Physicians also offered thoughts and solutions on what alternative treatments they would recommend in place of traditional opioid pain medication. There were several options physicians gravitated towards when asked to pick their top three treatments, with non-habit forming pain medication and physical therapy being the top choices.

Dr. Hegarty feels that part of this issue is the lack of education and understanding in relation to what the opioid products can and should achieve. “We need to ensure that individuals who are commenced on opioids understand when to use them, what the goal is and when you expect to be able to reduce and hopefully eliminate the opioids”. Their physicians and pharmacists need to be aware of the same objectives.

At Pain Relief Ireland we may commence individuals on opioid or opioid like products in order to gain control of the pain pattern. “We regard opioids as “tools” and we will always put in place a personalised pain management plan that may include interventional procedures, physiotherapy, psychological support and any other support that is need for time to time”.

Overall having better patient education and a more integrative approach to pain management seems to be what patients need, but the healthcare industry needs to support these major changes in order to turn the tide.

In the correct hands opioids are very powerful and very useful in helping you keep in control of your pain.
Make sure you are using opioids correctly; speak with your physician, pharmacist or make an appointment at Pain Relief Ireland
today to let us help you stay in control.

Pain Relief Ireland can help access your pain and plan a treatment that suits your needs. Call us on 025 86310 to make an appointment.

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