By now, most of us are aware of the big myth about opioid painkillers that kicked off the opioid epidemic: that opioid painkillers are not addictive. Decades of intensive marketing by drug manufacturers convinced doctors and patients that drugs like OxyContin were safe for long-term use and would not lead to addiction. Now we know better and we’re baffled we could have ever believed it. However, there are still some myths around opioid painkillers. Here are the big ones.
Opioid painkillers are the best way to treat chronic pain.
Many people with chronic pain who are addicted to opioids are afraid to quit because they think the drugs are the only thing allowing them to tolerate the pain. In reality, opioids are not a good way to treat chronic pain. They are fine immediately after an injury, or a medical procedure, or for people with terminal conditions, but chronic pain is a different issue. When you take opioids for chronic pain, you keep building a tolerance for the medication and you have to take more. Taking them for long periods can cause many health problems and increase your risk of overdose. There’s even a condition called opioid-induced hyperalgesia, which, paradoxically, makes you even more sensitive to pain. The longer you take opioid painkillers, the more likely you are to experience these adverse effects. However, there are other, more effective ways to deal with chronic pain. There are medications that are actually non-addictive, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, lidocaine, capsaicin, gabapentin, and even low-dose antidepressants. Holistic treatments can also be an effective way to manage pain. Physical therapy, exercise, healthy diet, and cognitive behavioral therapy have all been shown to lessen chronic pain.
Opioid painkillers are only a problem for people with a history of addiction.
The drug makers want to lay the blame on the person who is addicted, but it’s not true. People with no history of addiction or family history of addiction can become addicted to opioids. Opioid painkillers cause physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms can be brutal. Most people who become addicted to heroin start by taking opioid painkillers, often as prescribed.
It’s obvious when someone is addicted to opioid painkillers.
Opioids are strong drugs and many people think they would know if a friend or family member were addicted. However, that’s not always true. In general, people who struggle with addiction are often very good at hiding it. What’s more, opioid addiction is very common among older people because they are more likely to be injured in accidents or need medical procedures that require painkillers. Then, when they become dependent, it’s hard to notice. They already take several medications, and any problems with focus, memory, or coordination might easily be attributed to age.
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