The Problem With Pain Meds

Prescription opioid painkillers are now the leading cause of drug overdose deaths in America, taking more lives than heroin and cocaine combined. To better control the flow of pain drugs, an advisory pain to the Food and Drug Administration in January recommended tighter restrictions on a group of popular pain medications that includes Vicodin and Lortab,, meds that contain hydrocodone and acetaminophen. They would be placed in the most highly regulated drug category, which now includes oxycodone pain meds such as OxyContin and Percocet, along with morphine and opium. Pills in this category are much harder to obtain, with each refill requiring a new prescription.

Aside from the risk of addiction or overdose, pills with the opioids oxycodone and hydrocodone pose other hazards, especially when taken long-term. Studies show they increase the risk of falls, a real concern for older patients.

They also can cause men to lose interest in sex. Paradoxically, opioid pain medications can actually increase sensitivity to pain, a condition called hyperalgesia. “In some patients on these drugs, all their other pain begin to hurt more,” says C. Richard Chapman, professor at the Pain Research Center at the University of Utah. The potential dangers of opioid pain meds are so serious that some leading pain clinics now focus on getting patients off pills. At the Mayo Clinic’s Pain Rehabilitation Center, for instance, one of the program goals is tapering chronic pain sufferers off all pain meds. Some 57 percent of patients entering the program take opioid painkillers. Fewer than 7 percent are on opioid medications when they leave.

AARP Bulletin April 2013

Yours in Good Health, Naturally,

Dr. Brian Stevens

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