Recent Blog Articles
Can flavonoids help fend off forgetfulness?
Can physical or cognitive activity prevent dementia?
Wondering how much your medical care will cost? New rules could help
Long-lasting healthy changes: Doable and worthwhile
The sore throat checklist: What parents need to know
A new treatment for obesity
Remember the flu? Yep, it's that time again
3 ways to build brain-boosting social connections
Grandparenting: Ready to move for family?
Wondering about COVID-19 vaccines if you’re breastfeeding?
Harvard Health Blog
Opioids for acute pain: How much is too much?
- By Scott Weiner, MD, Contributor
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
I have wondered how a pain medication called an opioid was ever considered by any doctor to be something that was safe to prescribe so freely in the first place. And I don’t mean undertreating. Yes, treat the heck out of severe pain. I’m referring to the days when a month’s supply of 4 or 6 pills a day with 3 refills was considered normal procedure,then time for your appointment for the next few months’ supply. That’s how I remember the whole thing starting Seems like the name opioid says it all & I find it outrageous to believe that the prescribers didn’t know what was going on. I mean,were the sales pitches just that good? That persons with medical degrees were being scammed by smooth talking sales reps?? I have to say, I don’t think so.And as far as taking otc pain relievers for fractures until the pain becomes unbearable then take the prescription opioid is backwards. Isn’t it better and more effective to get ahead of the pain before it’s unbearable? In my case, if the pain had already gotten to a certain point, it was too late to take the rx because nothing less than a shot of morphine or something strong would have helped. A pill would have done nothing at that point, just wasted medication. I’m not a proponent of rx meds in general but if they’re needed, instead of generalizing everyone based on a pill count, treat the patient’s needs. A Dr should know when their patient is over that curve of severity & don’t need the stronger meds any longer. Why it was let to ever go any other way is something that happened, it shouldn’t have happened, but nonetheless here we are. I realize it was probably mostly not in the acute pain scenario but it shouldn’t have happened in any scenario. The people who live with chronic intractable pain, though, are losing their lives because of their pain, so trade the overdose victims who will od anyway & let the people who have been able to have some semblance of a life suffer, literally, to death. If they can be monitored now, they could have been all along so yeah, those prescriptions were written I believe with full knowledge of addiction potential. It seems like a fantasy that prescribers didn’t know, maybe they just ignored since it was ok to do it & keep those patients coming back. Most Drs ended up abandoning their now dependant patients saying they didn’t know. Hiding behind and blaming the pharma. Yes pharma played their role, but come on, Drs saying they didn’t know is a fallacy.
Obviously, a physician that never had a toothache. Regarding British dental care, no where near the same treatment as US. Look at the teeth of the the royal elders, sad, all that $ and horrific looking dental care. Furthermore, what is the “weak” codeine like drug prescribed in Britain? Tylenol 3? Codeine is an opiate. Try some regular acetaminophen with an abscessed tooth, good luck functioning thru the day and then trying to sleep. Especially in the summer heat. Not everyone lives in air conditioned comfort. Most dental infections resolve in 72 hours with appropriate antibiotic treatment, opioid pain relief, properly prescribed, thru that time period, is good safe treatment. Give me US dental care any day, over anywhere else in the world. Sorry doc, you’re all wet on this one.
The current overdose crisis is rooted in the intersection of long-term psychosocial and cultural trends combined with the lucrative opportunities unintentionally created by drug prohibition.
Misdirected government policymakers really need to abandon the “one-size-fits-all” intrusions into the once sacred physician–patient relationship.
Defenders of the false narrative continue to falsely believe that the population of nonmedical users consists primarily of patients who were inappropriately prescribed opioids for painful conditions. Based on that false premise, they reason that reducing opioid prescribing in conjunction with better drug interdiction and expansion of drug treatment should gradually eliminate the problem. Unfortunately, the data does not support that expectation.
Government policymakers should consider providing more harm reduction measures such as expanded access to medication-assisted treatments, needle exchanges, and possibly supervised injection facilities. Naloxone should be rescheduled by the FDA in order to make it more easily available (possibly as an over-the-counter drug).
Health care and pain management are very individualized undertakings. Current government policies aimed at reducing opioid overdoses are entirely misdirected and completely ignore that fact.
Opioid prescribing is at its lowest volume in the previous 15-years while overdose deaths “involving opioids” continue to escalate annually. Consequently, the current overdose crisis is very likely one of the many unintended consequences of government’s misdirected prescription drug prohibition.
Drug prohibition has provided substantial economic incentives for illicit narcotic manufacturers to re-supply banned substances which are in very high demand.
Prescription drugs are not now, nor have they ever been the primary driving component of the deceptively named “opioid crisis.” We are actually experiencing an “illicit heroin and fentanyl crisis.”
Reducing prescriptions has not (and will not) reduce “opioid-related” deaths. It’s merely driving up the death toll by pushing nonmedical users toward deadlier “street” drugs. A more rational approach, based on an accurate narrative, would emphasize measures aimed at reducing the harms associated with consumption of street opioids.
Chronic pain patients deserve/need more individualized medical care and less heavy-handed government policies.
I am a croninck pain patient and taking Roxicodone for about 15+ years I’ve never once had a problem with taking my meds that is helped ,now I’m being pulled in as a attic and it’s wrong. So know I suffer through my day of pain I’ve had tried CBD OIL. Don’t work.
Dr Weiner, you state “in the US, prescribers were reassured for years that opioids were a safe and effective way to treat pain. And yes, they are effective, but as evidenced by the vast increase in opioid-related overdose deaths seen in the country over the past decade, they are not safe.”
I must suggest, sir, that you are repeating a popular mythology. Overdose related deaths in the US are driven almost entirely by illegal drugs, and they always have been. When published data of the CDC are plotted for State by State rates of opioid mortality from all sources (legal, diverted, or illegal) versus rates of physician prescribing in the same States, we find no cause and effect relationship at all. Indeed, inconveniently for your premise, in 8 of the 9 States where prescribing rates are highest, mortality is lower than the US National average. And in 8 of the 10 States where prescribing rates are lowest, mortality is higher than the US National average.
The demographics are also contradictory: People over age 55 are prescribed opioid pain relievers three times more often than youth under age 25. But mortality in youth has soared over the last 20 years to levels now six times higher than in seniors.
We do have an opioid problem in the US. But it isn’t sourced in medical exposure to opioid pain relievers, and it never was. For further discussion of this data, see “Stop Persecuting Doctors for Legitimately Prescribing Opioids to Chronic Pain Patients” in the June 28 edition of STAT News.
Commenting has been closed for this post.
You might also be interested in…
Understanding Opioids: From addiction to recovery
Opioid use has exploded during the past two decades. Since 1999, sales of prescription opioids in the U.S. have nearly quadrupled. The good news is that there are a number of effective interventions for opioid addiction. These include self-help strategies, psychotherapy, medications, and rehabilitation programs. Consider using the strategies from Understanding Opioids: From addiction to recovery to discover new ways to cope with life’s inevitable difficulties.