The Impact of Long-Term Opioid Use on Chronic Pain Management

Can Lifestyle Changes be More Effective than Opioids in Preventing Chronic Pain?

As many as one-third of all Americans suffer from chronic pain, a condition that is characterized by persistent pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks. While some patients achieve safe and time-limited pain relief through the use of opioids like hydrocodone, the dangers of long-term use and misuse are evident. In 2016, overall drug overdose reached over 63,000 and were driven primarily by opioids. The potential dangers and questionable long-term efficacy of opioid analgesics has caused many clinicians to re-examine approaches to chronic pain management.

Are Opioids the Best Medicine?

The first-ever long-term study comparing the success rates of opioid-based vs. nonopioid-based treatment for chronic pain and other similar conditions, published last month in JAMA, found no significant advantage of opioid vs non-opioid treatment. The findings support the view that the benefits of long-term opioid use are outweighed by the risks.

What’s the Alternative?

Many physicians agree that the gold standard for long-term treatment for chronic pain is a customized combination of occupational-based interventions, including rehabilitation therapy, exercise, and cognitive-behavioral therapy and more. Some patients further find benefit from acupuncture, yoga, or massage. These recommendations are codified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and are considered safer in the long term for those suffering from chronic pain.

Long-term use of opioid analgesics can result in a heightened sensitivity to the condition over time a phenomenon called hyperalgesia. Exploring alternatives to opioids for chronic pain treatment can improve treatment outcomes, and patients’ overall health and quality of life, while reducing dependency.

CARMAhealth providers are aware of the complex relationship between long-term opioid use and chronic pain, and offers customized and targeted treatment for both pain and opioid dependence.


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