I was shocked when I heard that Prince was no longer with us last week (and you have to watch his Rock & Roll Hall of Fame performance — where DID that guitar go at the end, anyway?!).
Who knows what really happened, but of course many of us have seen the speculation that he may have overdosed on heavy opioid pain drugs like oxycodone, possibly used to treat severe and extremely painful hip arthritis after years of performing.
I have no idea if that’s true or not, and I am certainly not going to invade his family’s grief and privacy by speculating myself.
What I can tell you is that statistically, a lot of people with serious pain actually do die from accidental overdoses every year.
Check your watch. Twenty minutes from now, yet another person in the U.S. will be dead from an overdose.
So this is a valid concern for anyone with chronic pain who takes opioid pain drugs like fentanyl, Vicodin, Oxycontin or Percocet, or is thinking about these meds.
I’m not going to say that you should never take these pain drugs, because sometimes they make sense for short-term, acute pain. (They’re almost never the best answer for long-term management of chronic pain, though.)
I will say:
Please Don’t Be A Statistic.
If you are taking opioid pain drugs:
1) Be extra-careful if you’ve got the flu or any other respiratory illness.
Opioids slow down breathing, and that plus a respiratory problem can be very dangerous, very quickly.
2) Same thing goes for alcohol, because it slows down your central nervous system.
Which slows down your breathing. Put that together with even MORE respiratory depression from the opioid meds you’re taking, and you’re in a very dangerous situation.
Again, the numbers are pretty big — about 20% of overdose deaths and ER visits mix opioids and alcohol.
3) Also avoid these other OTC and prescription meds when taking opioid pain drugs
Opioids are more risky when you take them in combination with over-the-counter or benzodiazepine prescription sleeping aids, anti-anxiety drugs and sedatives.
Examples are Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and decongestants.
Just like alcohol, these slow down the central nervous system and are a very dangerous combination with opioid meds.
But What If I Really Need Opioid Pain Drugs?
Opioid pain drugs should be the last resort for long-term chronic pain, definitely not the first resort. They are really only appropriate for short-term treatment of acute pain, mostly after surgery.
A very few of our patients here in Morris County and Sussex County do require opioid pain meds, and our pain management physicians carefully supervise their use.
The truth, though, is that most muscle, joint and nerve pain improves as least as well with NON-surgical, non-opioid treatment as it does with surgery and strong meds. Often better, because the risk of complications is much greater with surgery and opioid pain meds.
We firmly believe that it’s almost always smarter to treat chronic pain with conservative treatment before jumping to surgery and/or heavy-duty drugs.
When the source of the injury has healed – but you still have chronic pain — pain meds aren’t going to fix it anyway. Why? Because the cause of the pain has changed and is now something other than the original injury.
This is called “complex pain” and treating it IS rocket science. It requires a carefully structured sequence of pain relief therapies tailored to your specific condition and pain triggers.
Call Us With Your Questions – We Are Here For You
Are you worried about a friend or family member?
Or maybe your own doctor is prescribing strong pain meds for your chronic pain and it’s making you nervous — you’re not sure all the conservative treatment options were considered.
Whether it’s for you, or out of concern for a family member of friend, if you have any questions at all about this topic, I really encourage you to give us a call.
You have a couple choices:
1) We have a totally free Pain Navigation service
We offer this as a community service to everyone in the Morris County area.
You don’t need an appointment. Just pick up your phone and call (973) 366-6615. You will talk to a real doctor who is familiar with a broad range of pain causes and treatments.
There is no pressure at all to see one of our doctors, we will just discuss your situation and try to be helpful to you.
2) If you’re feeling stuck in terms of treatment, feel free to schedule an appointment for a workup.
This is a good option if you really, really don’t want to take opioid pain drugs, but you’re still suffering from chronic pain and you’re feeling stuck, or ignored, or avoided.
If we can’t help you, or think you really should see a different type of practice, we will tell you that and help you find the right specialist.
Nearly everyone with chronic pain can be helped. No, we cannot always eliminate chronic pain completely — but we can nearly always significantly improve it.
And if pain meds ARE your best treatment for chronic pain, please, please remember: be careful out there!
Interested in helping? Morris County Human Services is forming workgroups to address opiate addiction and abuse.