Opioid Options: What Else Can We Use for Pain Management?

Opioid Options

Opioid drugs work by triggering a release of endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are a neurotransmitter that produces pleasurable feelings, boost feelings of happiness and well-being, and dampens the perception of pain. 

 

This makes opioids an excellent pain killer, but they can also become dangerously addictive as patients can become reliant both physically and psychologically on the effects of the drug.

 

America is currently in the grip of an opioid crisis and drug overdoses have become the leading cause of death of Americans under fifty, with two-thirds of those deaths from opioids.

 

In this article, we will be looking at other possible pain management methods that can could work as a replacement for the nearly 191 million opioid prescriptions given out each year in the US.

Radiofrequency Neurotomy

Usually prescribed for those with back, neck, knee and hip pain that has not been successfully treated with medications, physical therapy, or surgery, radiofrequency neurotomy uses radio waves to generate heat around specific nerves.

 

This heat temporarily stops these nerves from being able to send pain signals to the brain, reducing or limiting the feeling of pain in the patient. 

 

This relief can last anywhere from 6 to 18 months, allowing the patient increased mobility and the opportunity to complete courses of physical therapy they would not have been able to normally complete without opioid pain medication.

Spinal Cord Stimulation

A recently developed surgical option, spinal cord stimulation uses a surgically implanted pacemaker-like device that intercepts p[ain signals and produces a tingling or pressure-like sensation that replaces them.

 

Initially, the patient wears the simulator on a belt around the body, allowing them to assess the level of pain it is capable of reducing and whether they are comfortable with the alternate sensations it produces.

 

Once they are comfortable with the device, they can then move forward with having it implanted under the skin.

Acupuncture 

Originally an ancient Chinese practice, acupuncture combats pain by inserting tiny hollow needles into specific points on the body. These needles stimulate nerves, muscle, and tissue, causing the body to boost its natural painkilling ability.

 

During an acupuncture session, the practitioner will asses the patient’s symptoms and then insert anywhere from five to 20 needles. The practitioner might then twirl the needles, apply heat, cold, or mild electrical pulses before allowing the patient to rest for around 20 minutes. 

 

Acupuncture has also been linked to relief from pain and nausea, increased relaxation, better sleep, and an overall feeling of well-being.

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Written by:

Mark Brunton,

Pharmacy Technician Program Chair

CPhT, M.S.Ed.