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Are Pain Meds Safe? –

Woman with pain pill


Are Pain Meds Safe? –

Worried Woman, Adobe

Are Pain Meds Safe? –

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Do you wonder if your pain meds are safe? New research shows that opioids and prescription pain drugs are not the best answer for chronic pain. Almost daily we hear about opioid-related overdosing and accidental deaths. At the same time, many people need pain medication. We need to look to a middle ground.

In the not-so-recent past, narcotics were a first choice option for pain sufferers, whether for short-term acute pain, such as from a broken arm or a torn ACL, or for long-term chronic pain such as osteoarthritis, headaches, or fibromyalgia. Acute pain goes away, as does the need for narcotics. Chronic pain, however, may last a lifetime with ongoing needs for pain meds. Also if one has a problem with addictions to substances, recovery becomes even more complicated due to the addictive potential of opiates.

OTC Are The First Line Of Pain Meds Defense

We know that over-the-counter pain (OTC) are the first line of defense and they work together with the body’s natural opiates to help in pain relief.

What Are OTCs?

  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen
  • Acetaminophen
  • Ben-Gay

Secondly, the use of prescription, non-narcotic pain medications are also valuable for pain relief. Yet for some people, these medications do not aid in the reduction of pain.  This is when the option of narcotic pain medications must be explored.

What Are Prescription Non-opioids?

  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-convulsants
  • Steroids
  • Muscle relaxants (which can also be addictive
  • Anesthetics (such as pain injections)

What's The Difference Between Dependence And Addiction?

Dependence means a person relies on a certain medication.  For those who take narcotic medication for the long-term, dependence is a given. For example, we are physically dependent upon medications such as antidepressants for depression.

Dependence means that we must have these medications and that when we go off of them, we will have withdrawal symptoms similar to symptoms that an addict may have.

However, most people don’t fit the definition of an addiction which is:

“An addiction is an unhealthy relationship with a mood-altering substance, event, person or thing which has life-damaging consequences (author unknown).”

Dependence Can Lead to Addiction

Many people using narcotics for pain control may not meet the standards for addiction, but they may be dependent. While it is possible to become addicted, the pros and cons of use must be explored, especially for those people who have addictions or have had addictions in the past. This can become a “slippery slope” into addiction. Further, sometimes when a person who is addicted to pain medicines, must have them to recover from a surgery.

Monitoring Is A Must Even For Those Who Are Not At Addiction Risk

Recently, I ran into my friend Jenny, a former co-worker who is recovering from an alcohol and drug addiction. We began discussing chronic pain and narcotics.

I can take narcotics for chronic pain without fear of becoming addicted. I also have my use closely monitored by a pain-specialist physician and my therapist. I have no desire to take more pain meds than needed and can go days/weeks without use. Also, I don’t like the effect of a heavy dose (which I know from recovery from surgeries), so taking the opioids at a higher dose than needed is not a temptation for me.

My friend, Jenny, however is a different story. She has specific pain from a horrible illness and has to take narcotics. She is monitored closely, but also told me she takes it only as prescribed, as it is the only mediation that works for her.  She knows she can’t misuse it, or she will be in significant pain, and her physician won’t prescribe it. Her monitoring is absolutely necessary for she is at risk.

The Pain Meds Takeaway

While we understand there is a significance over-reliance of prescription opiates, I don’t believe in “throwing out the baby with the bath water” as for some people, opiates are the most viable option for pain management. With stricter guidelines being put in place, it will become safer for use and not abuse.


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Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in the fields of mental health, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. Her other specialties include grief and trauma, women’s issues, chronic pain management, holistic healing, GLBTQ concerns, and spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Dr. Anderson has been educated and trained in the fields of education, social work, and spirituality, and she holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (non-denominational/interfaith) specializing in spirituality.

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