Dear Dr. Walt,
I’m facing some low back surgery in the next few weeks. I’m concerned about becoming addicted to opioid pain medications after the surgery. But, I don’t want to suffer unnecessary pain. How can I manage my pain without worrying about becoming “hooked”?
— Anxious in Arkansas
I want to commend you for your concern. A 2017 study of more than 36,000 surgery patients found up to six percent continued to fill prescriptions for pain medications (opioids) long after what would be considered normal surgical recovery.
Following surgery, many patients head home with prescriptions for 30 or more opioid painkillers—enough to trigger addiction No wonder the CDC says, “It only take a little to lose a lot.”
Pain expert, Dr. Jane Ballantyne, of the University of Washington says, “The truth is, it’s not primarily the post-op pain that leads to dependency—it’s the drugs themselves. And that’s a tragedy because there is growing evidence that long-term use of opioids actually can increase the body’s sensitivity to pain.”
So it makes sense that there is a growing movement among doctors to handle
The American Society of Anesthesiologists says, “The opioid crisis is huge and affects everyone, rich and poor, male and female, folks who live in urban areas as well as rural areas. It’s got to stop, and reducing opioid use during recovery after surgery is a big part of the solution.”
They add, “Nobody needs a prescription for 30 opioids, and even those who are in major pain and may benefit should only take them for a day or two. … There are effective alternatives and many people don’t need opioids at all or at least should drastically reduce the amount they take.”
To reduce reliance on painkillers, the anesthesiologists’ group offers this advice for coping with discomfort as you recover from surgery:
- Only take opioids when in extreme pain. Medications such as ibuprofen (Motrin), naproxen (Aleve) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can manage pain and soreness. These medications are not addictive and are far less risky than opioids.
- Understand that soreness and discomfort after surgery are normal and will improve within a day or two. These sensations are different than pain, which is typically sharp or intense.
- While in recovery after surgery, try to be clear when asked if you are in pain. Specify if you are sore, uncomfortable or in serious pain.
- If you have significant pain, ask that an opioid prescription be limited to a small amount, such as five pills.
- If you do take opioids, take them only for a day or two after surgery, three days at most. Your pain will improve significantly within a few days whether or not you take opioids.
© Copyright WLL, INC. 2019. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.
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