When it comes to pain, people across the globe turn to medication to alleviate the symptoms of pain. Among this group, many people abuse prescription opioid pain killers, especially in the U.S. This has led to a growing epidemic among many Americans.

To paint the picture of this nationwide issue, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said prescription opioid drugs contribute to 40 percent of all U.S. opioid overdose deaths. According to more data from the CDC, 46 people died each day in 2016 from overdoses involving prescription opioids. Although the U.S. makes up five percent of the world’s population, it consumes about 80 percent of the world’s prescription opioid drugs. Thus, it’s clear that America has strong love, both abusive and non-abusive, for prescription opioids.

With the state of this epidemic, it calls for an important question: are there better alternative pain killers that are not opioids? There are many non-opiate pain killers on the market, but before we dive in, it’s important to understand how experts classify pain.


Types of Pain

There are two types of pain according to healthcare professionals: acute and chronic. Acute pain typically lasts no more than three months and is often associated with underlying causes. Acute pain typically goes away when the underlying issue is cured. For example, when someone is dehydrated, they may feel pain in their temples due to a headache. This type of acute pain will go away once the person is hydrated.

On the other hand, chronic pain typically lasts at least three months or more. In comparison to acute pain, chronic pain is a disease and not a symptom of a condition. Examples of chronic pain include arthritis, diabetic neuropathy or nerve pain. Given chronic pain is essentially a disease, it is more serious and will often require evaluation and treatment from professionals.

With more than 100 million people in the U.S. suffering from chronic pain based on data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it’s clear why prescribed opioids drugs are a top choice and often lead to addiction. On top of that, roughly 30 to 50 percent of people who experience chronic pain are likely to develop mental disorders including depression and anxiety.

With so many people in chronic pain, prescription opiate medications have become the standard remedy for many when it comes to relieving pain, which often leads to addiction and abuse. As more people turn to these medications, some may wonder how effective are opiate pain killers.

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How Effective Are Opioids When Reducing Pain?

When it comes to long-term treatment, there is minimal research that shows opiate pain medication is more effective than treatment focused on non-opiate medications. In fact, some medical experts agree a combination of non-opiate medications and non-medication treatments is much more effective than treatments strictly based on opiate medications. Thus, it’s important to understand the different types of treatments available for chronic pain.

A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association proved that opiate medication therapy was no more effective than non-opiate medication treatment. This study, which involved four groups, aimed to understand whether prescribed opioids are appropriate for treating acute pain. Three groups took opioids, either hydrocodone, codeine or oxycodone, with 300 milligrams of non-opiate pain killer acetaminophen. There was also another group focused strictly on non-opiate medications that took 400 milligrams of ibuprofen with 1000 milligrams of acetaminophen. While the opioids group showed positive levels of pain relief, they were no better than non-opiate treatment.

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Benefits of Non-Opiate Pain Killers

With so many people addicted to opiate pain killers, both through prescription and without, education for alternative non-opiate medications is needed. Many experts would agree that long-term opioid treatment should be used as a last resort due to the detrimental side effects. When someone go through opiate pain killer treatment, they put themselves at risk for the potential emotional, behavioral and physical side effects. For example, people can become addicted, which can have negative effects on a person’s relationships with their friends and family. In addition, opioid pain killers can lead to overdose.

As treatment progresses, the benefits of opioids decreases and the side effects heighten. It’s important that people who take prescribed opiate pain killers for long-term use are closely monitored by an experienced practitioner. In comparison to opiate treatment, non-opiate treatments tend to be more sustainable, effective and safer in the long run.

Alternatives to Opiate Pain Killers

If you’re looking for non-opiate options to relieve pain, below are a few alternative solutions:

  • Acetaminophen: More commonly known as Tylenol, acetaminophen is a non-opiate medication that you can buy over the counter. It is often used by itself or in combination with other medications. People with arthritis, headaches and pains that come with cancer are known to use acetaminophen. It’s worth noting that acetaminophen is commonly associated with liver toxicity. This is especially true for people who use it in high doses for chronic pain or people with conditions that affect the liver such as alcoholism or Hepatitis C

  • Antidepressants: For those who can tolerate the side effects, several antidepressants are effective and safe for chronic pain. Here’s how they work: antidepressants affect the nerves that transmit pain because some of the neurotransmitters that are in the depression pathways are also in the pain pathways for the brain and spinal cords.

  • Antiseizure and Anticonvulsant Medication: There are several antiseizure or anticonvulsant medications that are effective for chronic pain along with chronic migraines. Gabapentin and Pregabalin are approved by the FDA for different types of chronic pain. Topiramate and Divalproex are also FDA approved for chronic migraine headache prevention. You’re probably wondering, how do antiseizure and anticonvulsant medications help prevent or alleviate pain? Here are the common scenarios:

    • In the brain or spinal cord, bundles of nerve cells are firing a lot faster than they should be. If the bundle of nerve cells is in the trigeminal nerve nucleus, then it results in a migraine headache.

    • If the bundle of nerves is in the spinal cord or a damaged nerve outside the spinal cord, then the rapid firing causes a burning sensation along with muscle pain, tension or spasm.

  • Muscle Relaxants: There are many non-habit-forming relaxants that alleviate muscle spasms and tension, which are common issues among people with chronic pain. Common muscle relaxants include Methocarbamol, Metaxalone, Cyclobenzaprine and Tizanidine. Strong muscle relaxants typically cause daytime drowsiness, so it’s recommended to take them only at bedtime.

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen are sold over the counter and are often the first choice for the treatment of acute pain. Commonly prescribed NSAIDs include meloxicam and celecoxib. While these medications are highly effective, long-term use can lead to side effects such as stomach discomfort, stomach ulcers, clotting abnormalities and other dangerous systemic side effects.

If you’re looking for non-medication treatments, below are other options to explore:

  • Acupuncture: Originating from China, this practice focuses on inserting needles at pressure points to improve microcirculation. As a result, this improves the functioning of peripheral nerves and spinal nerves.

  • Chiropractic Practices: Chiropractors conduct adjustments to the spine or other parts of the body with the intent to correct alignment problems and ease the pain.

  • Massage Therapy: Massage therapy is manual manipulation of soft body tissues including muscle, connective tissue, tendons and ligaments. Common types of massage therapies include Swedish, hot stone, deep tissue, reflexology, Shiatsu and Thai.

  • Nutritional Supplements: Vitamins can help with the reduction of chronic pain and headaches. When choosing a multivitamin, choose one with Vitamin B Complex, which is known to help reduce chronic pain and headaches. While vitamin deficiencies are rarely the underlying cause for pain, it can either heighten pain associated with diseases.

  • Physical Therapy: This type of therapy is crucial for recovering from chronic pain that affects joints, muscles, bones and intervertebral discs as well as pain due to nerve damage. There is also an educational aspect to this treatment as physical therapists help patients understand which physical activities will help them reduce pain and improve their body’s function. In addition, a physical therapist will also teach what physical activities could induce pain.

  • Yoga: This ancient meditative practice originated in India around 3000 B.C. People who practice yoga, also known as yogis, learn to have control of their breathing, which results in alleviated pain. Yoga is often used in combination with mindful meditation, which is focused on being fully aware of the body and its sensations.

Many people who turn to opiate pain killers do not know the risk they put themselves into. Since this is a common issue that continues to become a bigger problem day by day, it’s important non-opiate medications are also in the picture when it comes to options to relieving pain.

Want more information about how Chapters Capistrano can help? Feel free to call 949-276-2886 and one of our addiction specialists will help get the information and help you need.

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