Posted by: Chris Maloney | October 3, 2014

Are Your Painkillers Killing You?

When you hear about drugs killing you, usually the image is of a back alley and cash changing hands. But a more accurate portrayal would be a person at a pharmacy check-out counter.

But don’t believe me. The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) just published a press release stating that: “the risk of death, overdose, addiction or serious side effects with prescription opioids outweigh the benefits.” OK, that sounds pretty definite. They do make an exception for cancer, but for anything else, the answer is that patients are being harmed more than helped. 

Will this end the tidal wave of pain prescriptions? Not likely. Doctors want to help patients in pain. And they always think that the prescription is temporary. That’s the “fatal” flaw in their logic.

When they studied the real outcomes, the AAN found that: “50 percent of patients taking opioids for at least three months are still on opioids five years later.” So flip a coin the next time you’re prescribed a pain-killer. Heads, you’re clean. Tails, you’re an addict, still on the prescription five years from now.

But isn’t that pain-killer still necessary? It’s still helping five years later, right? It’s not addiction, it’s treatment.

Sorry. “while opioids may provide significant short-term pain relief, there is no substantial evidence for maintaining pain relief or improved function over long periods of time without serious risk of overdose, dependence or addiction.” And the addiction isn’t without worse dangers: “More than 100,000 people have died from prescription opioid use since policies changed in the late 1990s.”

So with the best of intentions, our doctors are prescribing pain relief temporarily. But those prescriptions drag on and on, until they become more of a problem than a solution.

It’s very hard for a doctor to take someone off of painkillers once they’re in pain. Even though most doctors do not swear the original Hippocratic Oath anymore, the AMA has “ameliorate suffering and contribute to human well-being” in its list of physician professional responsibilities. That means your doctor not only doesn’t want to cause you to suffer, he may be negligent to his duties if he doesn’t refill your script.

That leaves patients in the unenviable position of having to wean themselves off pain-killers. Having worked successfully with many patients, the key is working to address the causes of the pain differently. You need someone working with you to help you get off the pain medication while lowering the overall pain.

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Responses

  1. […] Are Your Painkillers Killing You? […]

  2. Thanks for the link!


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