Opioids May Not Be the Best Choice

With more attention on drug overdose deaths linked to opioids, research shows there are alternative pain treatments to consider and you probably already have them in your medicine cabinet.

Before you start taking oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl or other opioids for pain treatment, you should know that a growing body of medical research has shown that other medications can be just as effective, or even better, for reducing pain. In fact, ibuprofen and acetaminophen, especially when taken together, can not only effectively reduce pain but have the dual advantages of being non-addictive and much lower in cost.

A number of clinical studies have focused on chronic pain, like back pain, but a growing body of research has also shown that for short-term relief for many common conditions, this alternative combination of ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be helpful, as well. Research shows, in particular, that ibuprofen and acetaminophen helped patients with the pain resulting from wisdom teeth extractions. Keep in mind that ibuprofen and acetaminophen are not risk-free; taken in excess, ibuprofen can lead to kidney damage and acetaminophen can cause liver damage.

Non-pharmaceutical interventions such as physical therapy, spinal manipulation, massage and acupuncture can also be effective at reducing chronic pain short-term. And there is some research that shows that yoga, meditation and mindfulness may also be helpful for some patients. This can be a controversial approach, though, as some critics consider this technique more “learning to live with the pain” rather than relieving it. Of course, there are some medical situations where opioids are still the preferred treatment – notably for cancer patients and for those in end-of-life care.

If your doctor is recommending opioids for pain treatment, it’s helpful for you to:

    • discuss the benefits and risks;
    • develop measurable goals to assess for pain and function throughout the treatment;
    • meet regularly to review your progress; and
    • discuss effective alternatives.

Remember you should be comfortable talking to your doctor about all aspects of your health care, including how to address pain and the range of alternatives that can help you.