The widespread use distribution of narcotic pain medications has led to a nationwide epidemic. Are these prescription pain killers the only way to recover?

Norco. Vicodin. Percocet. Dilaudid. Morphine.

Dozens of prescription pain killers brands transfer hands from pharmacist to consumer every year. In 2012, doctors wrote 259 million opioid prescriptions, enough to hand every American adult their own bottle of pills. According to CBS News, over 1 in 3 Americans were prescribed opioids in 2015, or 38 percent of the population.

Regardless of the concern for the nationwide opioid epidemic, doctors continue to prescribe these addictive medications with little regards for the consequences.

And the doctors aren’t the ones who pay; it’s those who trust their doctor to do what’s best for them. 2 million Americans struggle with a prescription pain killer addiction and those are only the ones who realize they’re addicted. Millions more struggle with opioid dependence with little idea of how to escape.

Are prescription pain killers truly the only way to handle treat injuries, illness, and post-surgical pain?

As the nation pays greater attention to its opioid epidemic, the realization that we need an alternative becomes more serious. There are a number of reasons that narcotic pain medications are not the only way to treat individuals following medical or surgical procedures. Doctors should always attempt to utilize alternatives to narcotics in those with chronic pain before prescribing opioids.

Why are narcotic painkillers not the only way to treat illness and injury successfully? Continue reading to find out more.  

1. 46 people die every day from a prescription pain killer overdose.

Shocking overdose rates attributed to prescription narcotics should be reason alone to seek alternatives. While not every individual using pain killers is at an immediate risk of an overdose, as their tolerance builds so does the risk. The human body can only process so much at a time; when tolerance is high enough, the possibility of overdosing skyrockets.

Additionally, drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States. 52,404 lives were claimed in 2015 due to a drug overdose, but of those deaths, over half were due either to prescription opioids or heroin.

With all the advancements in medicine and technology, heavy emphasis must be placed on discovering numerous alternatives to prescription narcotics. Researchers and scientists have an understanding of the core problems of the opioid epidemic. By working to combat it they can save thousands of lives every year.

2. Some prescription narcotic addicts are willing to switch to heroin.

The transition from prescription narcotics to heroin is alarming.

What often starts as a seemingly innocent prescription for Norco after a dental procedure can quickly spiral. Someone who struggles with chronic pain usually relies heavily on their medications to function. However, these medications can quickly become much too expensive to afford. Other times doctors cut the supply off and these individuals find themselves at a loss.

Many do not realize the severity of their dependence or addiction until their supply is gone. Only once their medication runs out and the withdrawal symptoms begin to kick in do they realize the problem. Some will turn to any measure in order to relieve their pain and avoid the withdrawal symptoms.

When people addicted to pain killers can no longer afford their medications or lose access to them, some choose to switch to heroin as an affordable alternative. 94 percent of individuals in treatment for opioid addiction who participated in a survey reported switching to heroin because their prescriptions were “far more expensive and harder to obtain.”

When it is easier to acquire heroin than it is to afford a prescription for a mounting pain killer addiction, and people are actually willing to make the switch, something must be done. America cannot continue to funnel those in a vulnerable position into dependence and addiction.

3. Doctors can be more selective about whom they provide prescriptions.

The statistics clearly show the number of narcotics prescribed for those with severe and chronic pain, among other more minor procedures. For those who have no alternative, opioids are a necessary part of their lives.

However, should doctors and dentists be as light-handed as they currently are with providing prescriptions? Do minor procedures truly require a prescription for some of the most potent pain relievers available?

Many people decry cigarettes and marijuana as gateway drugs while accepting monthly prescriptions from the pharmacy. Rather than being so quick to prescribe Norco or Vicodin, medical professionals should take into heavy consideration whether the individual truly needs to be handed a gateway drug in an orange bottle.

Additionally, it is important they take into consideration a patient’s medical history. Has the individual shown signs of previous drug addiction? Do they have a history of visits to treatment centers? Do they exhibit signs of a potential or even current addiction?

By paying more attention to whom they prescribe narcotics, doctors have the potential to save thousands of lives by not providing even that first prescription.

4. Plenty of non-narcotic pain relievers are sufficient.

For those with mild to moderate pain, doctors can prescribe a non-narcotic pain reliever. If there is no dire need to provide a narcotic prescription, alternatives should be sought at all costs. Heavy strength Tylenol or Ibuprofen can provide relief to individuals following minor medical or dental procedures.

If the need exists, Tramadol is an effective non-narcotic pain reliever. Users will still experience withdrawal symptoms upon separating from Tramadol but they are not nearly as severe as those induced by opioids. Additionally, it does not provide the same euphoric high that prescription pain killers do when taken in low doses.

When patients are weaned from Tramadol effectively, there should be little to no consequences. The drug is not nearly as strong as some of the most potent pain killers. By avoiding an almost unbearable withdrawal process, patients are less likely to continue down the path of addiction towards more harmful substances.

5. Topicals, patches, and injections offer an alternative to pills.

If the pain is isolated to a specific area, the use of a topical, patch, or injection can replace the need for prescription narcotics. Cortisone shots are one option for significantly impacting the sensation of pain. Rather than relying on prescription pills to get you through the pain, doctors can something with little to no lasting side effects.

Over the counter topicals and patches may also be helpful if the pain is minor. Pain killers should not be prescribed for conditions like a sprained ankle. Instead, doctors can either suggest or prescribe a specific topical or patch to individuals who can benefit from their non-addictive, pain relieving effects.

These alternatives are not addictive in the sense that prescription narcotics are addictive. A patch placed on the skin or an isolated injection will not provide the euphoric high caused by pain killers. Though individuals may become dependent on these alternatives, they are not at risk of addiction in the way someone using prescription opioids is.

6. Alternative pain management options have cropped up.

Pain management usually implies the prescription of some type of pain killer. However, with alternative pain management options available today, this no longer needs to be the case. Utilizing a full-body approach to managing pain can help provide some relief to those who live with chronic pain.

Medical facilities like certain Kaiser Permanente offices in Colorado offer this type of alternative option for pain management. With a focus on those at risk of or in recovery from opioid addiction, these medical offices in Colorado offer an Integrated Pain Service option. The two-month course places emphasis on educating individuals about pain management.

Utilizing teams of medical professionals (including a doctor, a pharmacist, a therapist, a physical therapist, and a nurse), they can confront the source of the pain from all fronts. Instead of isolating the handling of care to a specific department, a medical team can provide those suffering from chronic pain with a well-rounded approach of a pain management alternative to narcotics.

7. Focused physical therapy can be beneficial.

Focused physical therapy can help those with isolated incidents of chronic pain. Rather than incorporating the use (or misuse) of hydrocodone or oxycodone, physical therapy instead relies on the body’s natural ability to heal itself. Physical therapy both strengthens the body and increases flexibility, resulting in minor to significant pain relief.

Though physical therapy requires hard work, the tradeoff of avoiding debilitating prescriptions is worth it in the long run. Using the body’s ability to heal itself is a much healthier alternative pain management technique.

8. Self-medicating with kratom can provide some relief.

Kratom is derived from the leaves of trees native to Southeast Asia. This powdered substance is encased in capsules or brewed into a tea and helps provide relief to those with chronic pain. Some use it as a way to help ease and relieve opiate withdrawals or to keep them away from opioids entirely.

Does kratom really work for opiate withdrawal? The plant is unique in that it acts on opioid receptors in the same way opiates do. It provides relief from pain and anxiety in a similar manner but does not cause the sluggishness and drowsiness related to opiate use.

Kratom can be a helpful herbal remedy for chronic pain. It is important to keep in mind, though, that little research exists surrounding kratom. It is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration has made moves to classify it as a Schedule I drug.

However, personal accounts reveal that kratom is one of the strongest natural pain relievers. It seems to be an effective substitute for many painkillers; using kratom instead of Vicodin or Norco can help many avoid the nasty pitfall into addiction.

While it doesn’t cause the lethargy induced by opiates, kratom instead causes mild euphoria and an increase in energy. This is helpful to those with chronic pain, many of whom feel incapacitated by their body’s insistence on fighting against them.

Which Alternative Pain Management Option is Right for You?

Only you know your body and what works best for you. However, many of these reasons to seek alternatives to narcotics for pain should help encourage you to seek out what is right for you. You can avoid the risk of developing an opiate addiction and adding an additional challenge on top of your chronic pain.

Are there any options on the list you have yet to incorporate into your pain management regiment? Talk with your doctor about your concerns and your options for alternatives to opioid pain medications. With the recent adjustments in guidelines for prescribing opiates, they will most likely be more than willing to work with you. Listen to your body, listen to your doctor, and listen to what you feel is the best choice for you.