Minimizing Opioid Risk

Opioids: while in today’s society the word often carries a negative or stigmatized connotation, when used properly opioids can be one of the most effective options for pain relief. Although they do carry their fair share of risks, there are ways to minimize such dangers and still reap the benefits of such a powerful pain medication.

Since the drug’s origin in 3400 BC, opioids have been used as a method for severe pain relief. Due to the chemical resemblance between opioids and biological neurotransmitters, they are able to bind to opioid receptors throughout the body, primarily in the brain and the spinal cord. When they do this, they essentially reduce the normal pain signals that are sent to the brain, which decreases the sensations of pain felt by the patient. Although opioids are extremely effective in lessening pain, controversy surrounding their usage stems from their classification as a narcotic. It is important to remember that opioids have the potential to become highly addictive if careful precautions are not taken.

The first step towards addiction that a patient may experience is opioid tolerance, which is when the same dosage of a drug has less of an effect on a patient as time progresses. Tolerance occurs because after continued exposure to opioids over time, the opioid receptors present in the brain become less responsive to the drug and a larger dosage is needed to induce an effect. After tolerance develops, it is quite easy for dependence to occur in turn. The patient is considered opioid dependent when they continue to use the drug as a means of preventing withdrawal symptoms. Opioid dependence, however, is both predictable and treatable, and is still considered a normal behavior. Addiction, however, is not classified as a normal behavior, but rather a type of disease. A patient’s risk of becoming addicted to opioids increases with long-term, continued use of the drug, and the uncontrollable cravings that the patients feel may lead to irrational or unpredictable behaviors. Still, while opioids do carry a considerable risk of addiction, there are fortunately ways to minimize the possibility of addiction.

To prevent the likelihood of addiction to the greatest extent possible, management plans are a crucial part of opioid treatment. Management plans are typically created by pain specialists who take into account the patient’s specific needs, and who can monitor the condition of the patient throughout the entirety of the treatment process. The CDC has a set of recommended guidelines for the creation of management plans, and while different doctors may follow different specifications, the generic guideline for a management plan is as follows. First, an initial physical evaluation is done on the patient, and both their family and personal medical history is investigated. Based on this evaluation a customized medication plan is created, which the pain specialist will manage throughout treatment with check-ins and continued physical evaluations. Opioid management plans are crucial any time opioids are being used for medication, as they can greatly limit the risk of addiction and ensure that the patient is receiving a safe yet effective dosage of the drug.

While opioids are effective at easing pain and in many cases should be used as a method for relief, the dangers that come from using them cannot be disregarded. However, through careful planning and management, the risks that they entail can be lessened significantly. If opioids are to be used in a patient’s treatment plan, it is important for the patient to work with their doctor to ensure the creation of an effective and comprehensive management plan, as the patient’s safety should always be of the utmost priority.

Allison KarantzisComment