MEDICINE THAT DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD
A class of powerful prescription painkillers called opioids—which includes name-brand drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin—comes with more risks than benefits, argues a new position paper in the journalNeurology.
In fact, the author of the paper refers to the rise in opioid use as “a national epidemic and public health emergency.”
A look at the statistics surrounding opioid use explains why experts are throwing around such alarming language: More people between the ages of 35 and 54 die each year from opioid poisoning or overdose than from firearm or motor vehicle accidents, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Death aside, addiction and dependence are also common among opioid users; more than 50% of people prescribed opioids for 90 days are still taking them 5 years later, studies have found.
While opioids were once prescribed only for people in extreme pain—say, those recovering from major surgery or suffering from cancer—prescription policies changed in the 1990s after pain advocacy groups argued successfully for more patient access to these drugs. For the past 20 years, doctors have increasingly prescribed opioids for people experiencing pain from headaches, low- back pain ,and other conditions.
Based on the stats mentioned above, this rise in opioid prescriptions has caused more harm than good, the new report suggests. “For chronic pain—the type lasting more than 90 days—the evidence that these drugs are effective is low or insufficient, but the evidence of potentially severe harm is high,” says Gary Franklin, MD, who authored the position paper for the American Academy of Neurology.
Opioids work by binding to and blocking your body’s pain receptors. But as time passes and you develop tolerance to these drugs, you need to take higher and higher doses to keep the pain away. And, as your opioid dose rises, so does your risk for addiction and death.
For some patients—like those suffering from painful conditions like rhematoid arthritis or sickle cell disease—opioids may be safe if taken in small doses for short periods, Franklin says. But for many chronic pain sufferers, his report indicates these drugs come with life-threatening risks and few sustainable benefits.
If you’re seeing a doctor about pain, keep all of these opioid warnings in mind before asking for the strongest possible remedy, this report suggests. Franklin’s paper also calls on doctors and national health agencies to rethink their rules and practices surrounding opioid prescriptions.