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The Search for Safer Pain Meds


It is not melodramatic to suggest that prescription pain medications are contributing to the current drug crisis in the country. The New York Times calls it “America’s 50-state epidemic.” It is the worst health crisis in American history. The Washington Post shared the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control:
  • 42,000 people in the U.S. died of opioid overdoses in 2016.
  • That was a 28 percent increase from 2015.
  • Americans overdosing and dying from synthetic opiates like fentanyl more than doubled to 19,416.
  • Deaths from other legal prescription pain meds, like oxycodone or hydrocodone, increased by 14 percent.
  • Heroin deaths increased by almost 20 percent.
Opioids are synthetic pain relievers designed to help treat chronic or post-surgical pain. Unfortunately, they are also incredibly addictive and can act as a gateway to illegal drugs like heroin, which is much cheaper and easier to obtain on the street. There are currently few medicinal options for the treatment of severe pain. That is why an alternative treatment is so desperately needed. This article examines what researchers are trying to do to find safer alternatives to strong opioids for pain management. What progress is being made? Why is this research so important? What can clinicians do to help?

Pain Relief – or Slippery Slope to Addiction Treatment

Opioid medications are incredibly effective for treatment of acute pain after surgery, trauma, or at the end of life. But the longer the prescription duration, the more chance that the pain relief will lead to long-term reliance on the drug. In the mid-90s, pharmaceutical companies were aggressive in their push to send these drugs to market. Their efficacy for pain management was unquestioned, and doctors were heavily over-prescribing the drugs for a variety of ailments. Sadly, this behavior hooked millions of people. The dilemma is that synthetic drugs are so effective at treating pain. Recently The Guardian published an article showing the promise of a whole new family of opioids that may be safer than their current counterparts. Labs around the world have begun responding to the opioid crisis by creating new synthetic formulas that avoid some of the dangerous side effects of drugs like fentanyl, which represses respiration in the patient. Addiction treatment Researchers are focusing on the human body’s own ability to produce opioids in the form of endorphins which help control stress and pain. While opioids work in the same way, they produce the negative side effect of dependence and addiction. Scientists are showing progress with manipulating proteins in the human body to mitigate opioid’s risk of breathing difficulties. This has led to clinical trials of a synthetic pain reliever that is less addictive and reduces the side effects of drugs like morphine. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any of these medications so it could be years before they come to market. Too, The Guardian suggests that opioids work by targeting how you perceive pain along with rewarding the body with pleasurable feelings. Because these are combined in the opioid medication, it may be difficult to separate them into something just as effective but less addictive. In the meantime, addiction treatment specialists continue to treat patients around the country as researchers work to find alternative pain therapies. Are you a clinician looking for a safe place for your patients to detox and receive appropriate addiction treatment? Contact us to find out more about referring patients to our facilities.
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