Managing Chronic Pain Without Opioids

In this article, we explore the challenges and strategies for managing chronic pain without opioids, a critical issue affecting millions.

A recent study reports that approximately 20% of Americans experience some form of chronic pain at any given time. This statistic accounts for about 50 million people in the country.

The National Center for Health Statistics of the CDC added additional questions to its National Health Interview Survey regarding pain. The results were eye-opening to just how many Americans suffer from chronic pain.

Chronic pain is the most common ailment among Americans, affecting nearly 1 in 5 adults. Yet the lasting effects of chronic pain on the population tend to be overlooked.

Chronic pain causes almost $300 billion in lost productivity annually and $80 billion in lost wages. Beyond the economic impacts, chronic pain management is undeniably a factor that has led to the opioid crisis. It continues to be a major concern when regulating pain medications, especially opioids.

Chronic Pain Statistics

  • Chronic pain is the #1 cause of long-term disability in the United States
  • 70% of people with chronic pain are women
  • Advanced age is a prominent factor in causing chronic pain
  • Persistent lower back pain is the most common form of chronic pain reported
  • 50% of adults suffer from chronic headaches
  • Researchers found a correlation between mental and physical health and chronic pain
  • People from lower socioeconomic backgrounds have shown an increase in chronic pain
  • Little research examines how chronic pain levels change over time

Impact of Opioids on Chronic Pain

Powerful synthetic opioid painkillers entered the pharmaceutical market in the mid-90s. These powerful medications were said to be ideal for different forms of pain management with a lessened potential for abuse. At the time, these findings were comparing prescription medication to opiates or semi-synthetic opioids and were seemingly hard to believe.

This misinformation spurred a trend of physicians liberally prescribing powerful opioid painkillers in large quantities to patients of all kinds. In 2003, the medical community brought the dubious marketing practices by pharmaceutical companies forth to authorities and the public.

A warning letter issued by the FDA pointed out discrepancies found in regarding the safety of these medications. These findings pointed out the downplayed potential for misuse and fatal overdose.

By the time the mid-2000s rolled around, patients were regularly receiving scripts for powerful opioid medication. In particular, patients who suffered from chronic pain due to arthritis, genetic conditions and other non-terminal or end-of-life care ailments.

Nearly two decades later, new information shows that opioids can have a counterintuitive effect on chronic pain. In some cases, opioids can make pain worse and last longer.

Unfortunately, this new research does little to help the millions of people who rely on opioids for daily pain management. Still, they are at high risk of severe adverse effects if they discontinue their use of opioid medication abruptly.

FDA Guidelines for Opioid Prescriptions

doctor writing prescription to patient

In 2016, the CDC released new opioid prescribing guidelines for chronic pain management. This measure marginally helped decrease the amount of new opioid prescriptions given to new patients. It also showed a decrease in treatment duration for those who were prescribed opioid painkillers previously.

However, these restrictions faced backlash from patients who found it increasingly difficult to obtain the medications they needed. Medical providers felt they were put under intense scrutiny when prescribing opioids for necessary treatment. After much petitioning, the CDC amended prescribing guidelines in 2022 to allow for more flexibility.

Prevention of Opioid Overprescribing in Pain Management

Although the initial guidelines helped reduce malpractice and patient over-exposure to opioids, they did very little to lower overdose rates. With the opioid crisis continuing to surge, the focus is now shifting from overprescribed medications to fentanyl.

Medical providers now make careful considerations when prescribing opioids for acute pain. Most often, patients receive three days’ worth of opioid medication, followed by non-opioid pain treatment options. This short limit on opioid exposure hopes to reduce the risk of dependence. Otherwise, opioid dependency can escalate quickly if patients take medications for more than two weeks.

This leaves chronic pain patients in limbo. Some depend on opioids for chronic pain relief, especially as other solutions have proven to be unhelpful. For many of these patients, making a radical shift to non-opioid treatment for chronic pain is not feasible. However, there is hope for future chronic pain sufferers.

Opioid Treatment for Chronic Pain Patients

There is a segment of the population that requires opioid medication for chronic pain relief. With considerable assessment, for some, the benefits of regulated doses of opioid painkillers outweigh the potential risks.

Most of these chronic pain patients are aware of the dangers of opioid medications. Sadly, for many, their conditions are unmanageable without the medication. These patients often work very closely with their providers to avoid overdose risks and limit dosage increases if unnecessary.

More research is underway to investigate non-opioid approaches for chronic pain. Solutions include preventative measures patients can take to improve their overall health. Through lifestyle choices and foresight, they may be able to reduce their potential for experiencing chronic pain down the line.

Opioid Addiction Recovery Programs

More work still needs to be done to help those suffering from chronic pain. The victims of overprescribing painkillers who are now statistics of the opioid epidemic in the country need attention, too.

Many people who developed opioid use disorder as a result of exposure to prescription painkillers have found success in recovery. With the help of comprehensive outpatient opioid recovery programs such as medication-assisted treatment, they’ve freed themselves from addiction.

Middlesex Recovery helps people with opioid dependency rebuild their lives. FDA-approved medications, substance use counselors and attentive and specialized medical providers help patients enrolled in these recovery programs every day. Those who stick to their comprehensive MAT programs have shown the best chance of achieving long-lasting recovery.

To learn more about the addiction treatment programs offered at Middlesex Recovery, locate the nearest facility and give us a call or message us today.