Managing chronic pain is an integral part of developing a treatment plan with your doctor.

When you have a conversation with your pain management doctor, it will most likely include the use of prescription or other medicinal treatments. Therefore, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of what opioid medicines are when this conversation occurs. Learning about prescribed opioid medications for chronic pain beforehand is important so that you are not in the dark regarding what your doctor might recommend.

What Are Opioid Medicines?

According to Pharmacy Times, "Approximately 50 million Americans—1 in 5 people—suffer from pain. Unfortunately, this number is expected to rise over the next 2 decades. The majority of chronic pain sufferers have been living with their pain for over 5 years." What this equates to is the need for healthcare providers to proactively work with their patients toward managing and treating their chronic pain symptoms.

Doctors often prescribe opioid medicines to help their patients potentially find relief from severe or chronic pain. Some of these powerful pain-relieving medicines include hydrocodone, morphine, and oxycodone, as well as many others. Some opioids are derived from a poppy plant, while others are made chemically by scientists in a lab. Each of these medicines carries benefits, as well as risks.

opioids for chronic pain

About Prescribed Opioid Medicines

Melanie Sadler, Pharm.D., clinical advisor for Humana at HomeSM and board-certified pharmacotherapy specialist (BCPS) states that "Opioids are most commonly prescribed for acute pain, such as from surgery or an injury, or chronic pain, such as from back problems or cancer." The main reason for this is that doctors and surgeons know that when their patients need a short-term and powerful pain-reliever in hospitals or long-term treatments for out-patient care, opioid medications have a track record of effectiveness.

Let’s take a look at several of the different prescribed opioid medicines for chronic pain your doctor may prescribe, as well as their benefits.

  • Fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, Fentora): prescribed to patients who need daily, around the clock, long-term chronic pain treatment, and alternative treatment options appear inadequate.
  • Hydrocodone-acetaminophen (Norco, Zafrel, others): use of this medication is optimal for those suffering from pain ranging from moderate to severe. The medicine contains a combination of non-opioid (acetaminophen) and an opioid (hydrocodone) pain-reliever.
  • Hydrocodone (Hysingla ER, Zohydro ER): doctors prescribe this medication for chronic and severe pain to treat patients who need long-term and around-the-clock care.
  • Morphine (Morphitec, MS, Roxanol): patients receiving this medication typically suffer from short-term or chronic pain and may be intolerant to other treatments.
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Roxicodone, others): patients receive a prescription for this medicine when experiencing moderate to severe pain and need long-term relief around-the-clock.
  • Oxycodone-acetaminophen (Percocet, Roxicet): patients who are prescribed this medication are experiencing moderate to severe pain. The medicine is a combination of acetaminophen, which is non-opioid, and an opioid pain reliever. The acetaminophen will also work as a fever reducer but can also cause liver damage.

What are the Benefits of Prescribed Opioids?

According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, nearly 100 million American adults are affected by pain annually. What this results in is a national cost of $65 billion in medical treatments per year, as well as a loss of work productivity. What does this mean for patients who are going to talk to their doctors about using prescription opioids? Because of these statistics, they could potentially experience a more productive life, as well as a reduction in long-term medical expenses due to repeat doctor visits to treat their chronic pain.

The use of opioid medicines for chronic and short-term severe pain can be effective. Even though these medicines may not take your pain away entirely, they could help you control it better. In doing so, you could be able to go back to work, enjoy social activities, or participate in other activities in your daily life again.

It's essential to remember, however, that opioid medications are dangerous and addictive and aren't for all types of pain or patients. Therefore, it's necessary to communicate with your doctor regarding the kind of pain you're experiencing. That way you can determine if opioid medicines are the best treatment option for your chronic pain after considering all the risks.

What are the potential risks of opioids?

Because we’re discussing a narcotic medication, it’s essential we present the potential risks it involves. Some potential risks include:

  • addiction
  • dependence
  • overdose
  • tolerance

These risks are significantly reduced if you take your medications exactly as directed. Don’t take more than what’s prescribed and store them safely. Be sure not to break up or dissolve these medications when taking them to ensure you’re taking them safely. It’s also essential to be aware of the potential side-effects which could include drowsiness, nausea, or dizziness.

What Should You Do If You Experience Side-Effects?

If your doctor prescribes an opioid medication and you experience side-effects, contact their office immediately. While you may feel tempted to discontinue using the medication, it’s not advisable to do so without consulting your physician first, as this may cause additional side effects. Therefore, if you have questions or concerns regarding the medicines you’re taking, call your doctor immediately. If you can’t reach your doctor, call the pharmacy where you had the prescription filled for advice and then call your doctor during their regular office hours.

senior woman living pain free

Consider Alternative Treatment Options for Your Chronic Pain

If you would prefer not to use opioid medications for chronic pain because of their documented high risk to your health, you can explore other treatment options.

Reach out to the pain management doctors at Midsouth Pain Treatment Center to discuss effective non-opioid options. They have various locations throughout the MidSouth including Memphis, Southaven, Oxford, Jackson (TN), and Tupelo.