With the opioid crisis raging on in the US, and the UK fast catching up, experts are beginning to look at what other options are available for those suffering from chronic pain. Recent research has suggested that just one in 10 patients seeking help for long-term pain actually benefit from opioid painkillers, whilst doctors continue to regularly prescribe them as the first intervention in almost all cases.
Dr Cathy Stannard, clinical lead for guidelines on chronic pain at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence argues that “For long-term pain there are no medical treatments that work really well – that is a harsh fact.
“Long-term pain is distressing and disabling, it is dreadful to live with, but medical treatments do not work to treat it.”
From 2007 to 2017, GP prescriptions for opioids such as morphine and oxycodone doubled. Whilst the UK has not seen the continuing rise in deaths linked to prescription pills that the US has, research has shown that the strength of our prescriptions is rising, and there is concern about the side effects caused by these drugs, as well as the possibility of addiction.
Painkillers Vs Pain Relievers
Professor Jamie Coleman, a government adviser, suggests that one of the things that could be a factor in the unrealistic expectations patients have for opioids is the term “painkiller”, which he believes perpetuates the myth that they ‘cure’ pain.
Highlighting the ‘painkillers don’t exist’ awareness scheme currently running in Sunderland, Prof Coleman praised the initiative, which aims to show that opioids do not work to cure pain, merely mask the symptoms, saying “We need to educate people. For some, they will have very little impact.”
Prof Coleman also argues that the over-the-counter sale of low-dose codeine drugs in pharmacies could be a jumping off point for many people’s reliance on opioids, as even at low doses the medication can be addictive. He believes that making such drugs prescription-only could help to tackle the issue of misuse, and help to reframe the culture surrounding painkillers in much the same way as we have with antibiotics in the struggle against drug-resistant superbugs.
One thing that experts do agree on is that something must be done to handle the way in which we view chronic pain. Cathy Stannard notes that when patients are asked to rate their pain on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the most unmanageable type of pain, akin to torture, patients are rating their pain as a 12. “That does not mean they are lying – what it means is they very, very much want help … The pain score is an articulation of distress,” she said.
Stannard believes that there are other options available to us outside of medication to cope with this type of pain, saying “Maybe we can’t change the pain, but we can do various things like we can improve mobility, we can improve sleep, we can improve social isolation, we can provide housing support, we can provide financial advice.
“Our problem is that we treat pain as a medical thing, like hypertension, and what we use are drugs that interact with the pain pathway, and in fact we neglect the fact that pain is about so much more than that,” she added.
When it comes to pain there are a number of other factors outside of injury and illness that contribute to a person’s perception of the pain that they are in.
“We know now there is a very close relationship between, for example, adverse childhood experience and adult chronic pain,” Stannard said, adding that another factor that has been linked with chronic pain is grief, although “It doesn’t mean that pain is any less real if there are profound emotional contributors.”
Stannard points out that it is not a case of GPs overprescribing out of neglect, but simply a misunderstanding of where certain types of pain come from, and what other options there are in order to help patients who appear to be in constant pain.
Do You Have A Painkiller Addiction?
For those suffering from chronic pain, a painkiller addiction can creep up on without you noticing. This is because in the early days the pain relief is necessary, but then you become used to taking it, and perhaps use it as a crutch in order to feel comfortable day to day, even after the pain has lessened.
You may be suffering from a painkiller addiction if:
You Think About Medication All The Time
A preoccupation with painkillers is one of the first signs of addiction. Perhaps you are starting to worry about whether or not you have enough of your supply to ‘keep you going’, or you are counting the hours until you can take your next dose.
If you are in the first couple of days after surgery or injury, this is normal, but if this is still the case after a couple of weeks then you might be becoming dependent on your medication.
You Take More Than Prescribed
Addiction is very much tied in with tolerance. If you have been taking a certain medication for a while then your body becomes used to it, and you won’t get the same effects from the amount you were first prescribed. If you start to up your dose outside of what you have been prescribed, this could be a warning sign.
You Start To Look For Drugs From Other Sources
Once you are no longer able to get the drugs that you need on prescription, or don’t feel that you have enough medication to ease your pain, you may start to look outside of your GP surgery to stock up. Some of the ways in which people do this, and which can signal an addiction, are:
• Ordering drugs online
• Stealing prescription drugs from friends and family
• Buying prescription drugs from other people
What Can You Do
The fact that you are reading this article suggests that you have an awareness that there maybe a problem. This is always a vital step towards addressing the problem, so you deserve to congratulate yourself for that.
Cassiobury Court can also help you if you are worried that you may be addicted to prescription drugs, our modern facilities and expert staff can help you reach your goal of freedom of addiction. If you want to know more, we can be reached on 01923 369161 or you can text HELP to 83222.