Managing your pain with opioids
Everyone deals with pain from time to time—headaches, bruises, scraped knees and other injuries can be easily treated with over-the-counter medications. This is called acute pain.
Chronic pain lasts for months. Sometimes, chronic pain is caused by something else. Many people with cancer or arthritis deal with chronic pain. Other times, the pain has no clear source. No matter the cause, chronic pain can affect your life. It can be hard to go to work or do the things you love when you’re hurting.
If you’re dealing with chronic pain, you’re not alone. Chronic pain is one of the most common reasons adults seek medical care.¹ Opioids are 1 class of medication used to treat pain.
What is an opioid?
Opioids work by blocking pain messages sent through your spinal cord to your brain.²
Opioid medications may come in different forms and doses, but they all work similarly. Some common opioid medications available through CenterWell Pharmacy® include:
When you have chronic pain, your doctor may prescribe opioids if over-the-counter pain relievers or other prescription medications don't help. Make sure your doctor knows about every other medication you’re taking, including any supplements or vitamins. This reduces the risk of bad drug interactions while taking your medication.
At CenterWell Pharmacy, we check your entire list of medications you have ordered with us before filling your order. For patients who take opioids, this is especially important, as mixing certain medications improperly can be fatal.
What are the benefits and risks of using opioids?
Opioids are effective at getting rid of many kinds of pain.³ They can help people with chronic pain live a more normal life.
However, opioids aren’t right for everyone. Like any medication, opioids have side effects. Some side effects of opioids can be severe,⁴ and may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sleepiness, dizziness and confusion
Physical dependence is also a risk of opioid medication. When you have a physical dependence on a medication, you have withdrawal symptoms when that medication is stopped.
Many people also develop tolerance to prescribed opioids. Tolerance means you need to take a higher dose of the same medication to get the same pain relief. Taking higher doses of opioids increases the risk for both addiction and overdose.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 1 in 4 patients taking opioids struggles with opioid addiction. More than 11 million patients reported misusing opioids in the last year.⁵
If you and your doctor decide opioids are right for you, you should “start low and go slow.”⁶ This means your first prescription should be a low dose, and not increased unless absolutely necessary.
Stay prepared with naloxone
If you have prescription opioids in the home, consider learning how to use naloxone. Also sold as Narcan®, naloxone can reverse a deadly opioid overdose.
Naloxone reverses overdoses from heroin, fentanyl and prescription opioid medications. It’s available in all 50 states, and easy to use. If you give someone naloxone and they aren’t having an overdose, it does not hurt them.⁷
Non-opioid drugs to help with pain
If the risks of taking opioids long term are too great, there is still hope for chronic pain relief.
Opioids are not your only option for managing chronic pain. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers may be effective in managing your chronic pain. There are 2 types of OTC pain relievers: acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).⁸
Both acetaminophen and NSAIDs have their own risks, especially if you’re taking them frequently. Your CenterWell Pharmacy team can discuss the risks and benefits of OTC pain meds, and any interactions with medication you’re already taking. Customer Care specialists are available to discuss your concerns Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Eastern time.
Medications originally meant to treat other illnesses can be used to relieve your chronic pain. Certain antidepressants or anticonvulsants have been shown to treat nerve damage, arthritis, fibromyalgia, headaches, facial pain, low back pain and pelvic pain.⁹
Antidepressants also have side effects. Talk to your doctor to see if these meds are right for you.
Medication-free pain relief
There are some non-drug treatments available for pain.¹⁰ These options have not been tested by the Food and Drug Administration. But, they have been helpful for thousands of patients managing their chronic pain.
Some potential drug-free pain relief techniques to discuss with your doctor include:
- Acupuncture. Acupuncture stimulates specific points on your body. The most common method of stimulation is a thin needle. Other methods include pressure, heat or electrical stimulation. Research shows acupuncture can relieve back, neck, and knee pain, as well as headaches.¹¹
- Biofeedback. Biofeedback techniques use electronic devices to measure your breathing rate, heart rate, muscle tension or other body function. You can see on the device when your muscles are tense or your breathing is elevated, and can practice releasing muscle tension or deep breathing. Biofeedback can help chronic headaches and back pain.
- Electrical stimulation. Over-the-counter machines, such as a transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TENS) machine, send a gentle current to your nerves. This interrupts pain signals. Other forms of nerve stimulation may be available from your doctor. These include implanted electric nerve stimulation and deep brain stimulation.
- Massage therapy. Who doesn’t love a massage? And research has found massage can provide relief from back, neck, shoulder and knee pain.¹²
- Physical therapy. Through exercise, massage and manipulation, physical therapy may help you reduce pain. It also conditions muscles and restores strength.
- Talk therapy, meditation and relaxation therapy. Pain happens in the body but is experienced in the mind. These therapies teach coping skills, address negative thoughts or emotions and provide emotional support to people with chronic pain.
How CenterWell Pharmacy can help
If you and your doctor decide opioid treatment is the best option for your chronic pain, CenterWell Pharmacy can help make sure your treatment is safe and effective.
Our pharmacists are on call 24/7 to answer any urgent questions you may have, or in case of emergencies.
We check every order for safety and accuracy, twice. Because opioids don’t mix well with certain medications, we review your entire order history to ensure there are no negative interactions you need to worry about. Always disclose any medications (including over-the-counter medications and supplements) to your pharmacist.
We also ship your medication right to your door—ensuring you get pain relief when you need it, and don’t have to make an extra trip to the pharmacy.
- James Dahlhamer et al., “Prevalence of Chronic Pain and High-Impact Chronic Pain Among Adults — United States, 2016,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed November 8, 2022, https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6736a2.htm.
- “Managing Pain: Moving Beyond Opioids,” NIH News in Health, last accessed November 4, 2022, https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2018/10/managing-pain.
- “Prescription Opioids,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed November 4, 2022, https://www.cdc.gov/opioids/basics/prescribed.html.
- “Prescription Opioids.”
- “Prescription Opioids.”
- “Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed November 8, 2022, https://www.cdc.gov/opioids/providers/prescribing/pdf/prescribing-opioids-pocket-guide.pdf.
- “SAMHSA Opioid Overdose Prevention Toolkit,” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, last accessed November 8, 2022, https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/sma18-4742.pdf.
- “Pain Relievers: Understanding Your OTC Options,” American Academy of Family Physicians, last updated April 22, 2022, last accessed November 4, 2022, https://familydoctor.org/pain-relievers-understanding-your-otc-options/?adfree=true.
- “Chronic Pain Medicines,” American Academy of Family Physicians, last accessed November 4, 2022, https://familydoctor.org/chronic-pain-medicines/?adfree=true.
- “Non-Drug Pain Management,” MedlinePlus, last accessed November 4, 2022, https://medlineplus.gov/nondrugpainmanagement.html.
- “Acupuncture: What You Need To Know,” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, last accessed November 4, 2022, https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/acupuncture-what-you-need-to-know.
- “Massage Therapy for Health: What the Science Says,” National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, last accessed November 4, 2022, https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/providers/digest/massage-therapy-for-health-science.
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