With the opioid crisis looming in the background, people are beginning to rethink opioids as the default medication for all types of pain. It can be difficult to change mindsets, and many people believe opioids are the most effective medication on the market. Are they?
Opioids Have a Long History
You don’t need to look deep into history to find people treating all sorts of ailments with opioids. In the 20th century, new medications derived from opium, such as morphine and heroin, were common.
Opioids were very effective, it seemed, at killing pain. As more people used them to treat a variety of different illnesses, however, it became apparent these substances were also powerfully addictive. Heroin became illegal, and medications such as morphine were highly regulated.
The Continuing Development of Opioids
Although people recognized just how dangerous opioids could be, the medical field still recognized them as powerful tools in the fight against pain. Morphine continued to be used, as did all kinds of synthetic opioids. Researchers continued to look for a “safer” opioid.
Today, there are many different opioids on the market. Almost all of them are used by doctors and other healthcare practitioners in the fight against all types of pain, including chronic pain. The question remains. Just how much should the medical field rely on these medications?
New Research Shedding Light
A new study wanted to answer that question. It looked at treating groups with chronic pain with both opioids and non-opioid medications over the course of 12 months to find which was more effective.
At the outset of the study, the subjects all expected opioids to be more effective. The results were just as surprising to them as the rest of the medical field. The group being treated with non-opioid medications reported less severe pain than the group being treated with opioids.
What Does It Mean?
The study flies in the face of conventional medical wisdom, which has long treated opioids as the most effective medication for any type of pain. One of the reasons behind the current opioid crisis is physicians’ tendency to default to opioid prescriptions for chronic pain and acute pain alike.
The study also offers hope for those who live with chronic pain but fear the risks of long-term opioid use. Opioids are highly addictive, which makes them a poor choice for treating long-term conditions such as chronic pain.
The fact that they’re not as effective as commonly believed makes the choice to prescribe opioids as a first treatment even worse.
A Shift in Thinking?
With the opioid crisis in full swing, healthcare practitioners, patients, and activists alike have been calling for a change in medical thinking. The results of this new study could help push physicians away from the “default opioid prescription” mentality plaguing the treatment of chronic pain.
A shift in thinking is most definitely needed. If opioids are so dangerous and, as it turns out, reportedly not very effective, why are they being prescribed? There are other, safer alternatives that appear to be just as effective. The researchers used topical lidocaine and meloxicam as alternatives.
Another shift in thinking may be needed for patients. Most doctors and patients set their goal as completely eliminating pain, which often leads to high doses of opioids for many. Instead, it may be useful for patients to think about reducing pain as much as possible and coping more effectively.
Can You Escape Opioids?
The solution for most chronic pain patients is never to start opioids at all. But what if you’ve already begun taking them? There is hope. Studies have suggested medical cannabis can help people reduce or even eliminate their opioid medications and still get effective pain relief.