Effective long-term pain management is tricky. For acute pain, such as that after an injury or surgery, the options are fairly simple and straightforward. A few days of taking painkillers – primarily opioids – is typically more than sufficient to deal with most post-operative pain and typical sports, work-related, and other injuries. But long term, chronic pain is another story altogether, and the nature of opioids and the way they interact with the brain makes them both a highly effective treatment option and one that poses some risks. The key, of course, is in balancing treatment and following a strict approach to taking opioids for pain management.

Safe Opioid Use

The first thing to understand about opioids is that using them is perfectly safe. It is the mis-use of opioids that causes nearly all of the problems you may have heard about with this type of medication. Over the years, however, nothing has been proven to be as effective as opioids. They come from a natural source (poppies) and work in a way that is highly targeted.

Mis-use, however, can cause many issues. Here are some opioid guidelines that are both very simple and very effective. Follow them and you should not have problems.

  1. Take only the medication and dosage prescribed: This is basic and self-explanatory, but frequently ignored. When your doctor prescribes a specific dose, take that dose. If a range is prescribed, try to take the lowest possible dose, and don’t increase without talking with your doctor first.
  2. Do not take other people’s medications: Easy enough, right? But it’s surprising how often people will mistakenly believe they can substitute one pain killer for another. Don’t take a medication different than what you’re prescribed, and don’t take others’ medications.
  3. Assess pain honestly and determine what you can live with: If you’re afflicted with chronic pain, it’s something you’ll likely live with forever. Determine how much of that pain you can live with semi-comfortably, and take pain killers in accordance with that level.
  4. Don’t take opioids with certain other medications: Some medications do not interact well with opioids, and alcohol should always be avoided when taking them. Certain anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants can also pose issues, and you should discuss your existing prescriptions with your doctor when creating your pain management plan.
  5. Explore alternative methods of pain management: This probably goes without saying, but other options exist, from physical therapy and exercise to hot tubs and non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These may have only a minor impact on your pain, but every little bit helps, and can reduce your reliance on opioids for safe pain management.

Opioids for Pain Management

Opioids are a good choice for pain management, but should be used only as needed, as directed, and in a limited manner. If a small dose with work, stick with it. If other, more difficult, pain management options also work, try substituting them and mixing in those alternative methods to reduce the use of opioids and reliance on them. With proper care, and a mindful, dedicated approach to making pain an annoyance rather than a roadblock, opioids can be a safe, effective tool in the fight against chronic pain.

Types of Opioids Used as Painkillers

The following are all commonly-used pain killers. The list below includes the most commonly prescribed pain killers, along with both the generic and brand names of the drugs. These work in a similar manner to one another:

  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin®) Oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percocet®)
  • Oxymorphone (Opana®)
  • Morphine (Kadian®, Avinza®)
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl
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