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Pain Management

Alternatives to Opioids Exist — Just Ask Your Pharmacist

Opioid addiction (which we prefer to call opioid use disorder) continues to increase in the United States. Opioid pain relievers are certainly important for treating severe pain, but alternatives do exist.

While opioid addiction continues to dominate the news cycle, there are valuable healthcare providers who stand ready to help, including pharmacists. Pharmacists are a reliable and accessible resource to consult about medications for pain treatment. 

Numerous medications are currently being used to treat different types of pain, including certain antidepressant, anticonvulsant, and anti-inflammatory medications. Several over the counter (OTC) medications have been shown to be equally as effective as some opioid analgesics in clinical studies. 

Using these alternatives, with non-medication treatments, can be a safe and effective pain treatment strategy.

OTC pain medications

Acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen are effective pain medications when used as directed.  Oftentimes, these medications are overlooked because a prescription is not required, however, many types of pain respond well to these options.  

Topical pain-relieving products are also safe and effective when used appropriately.  Herbals and dietary supplements are frequently used to treat pain, and include glucosamine chondroitin, kratom, turmeric, tart cherry, ginger, devil’s claw, willow, and cannabidiol (CBD). Clinical studies do not support the routine use of these agents, however, some patients do achieve meaningful pain relief.  

Likely the greatest controversy among these alternatives is the routine use of kratom and CBD. While there are studies that support their use for pain management, people interested in using these agents should speak to their prescriber or pharmacist about risks, including drug interactions.


Non-opioid prescription medications

No, your doctor doesn’t think your pain is due to depression or seizures, but they may prescribe you a medication for these conditions as they are effective for several types of pain. Imagine pain as an electrical signal moving through your nerves. These medications may slow down that signal, thereby decreasing the severity or frequency of your pain.

Non-medication alternatives

Typically, pain is best treated by a combination of both medication and non-medication therapies.  Some effective non-medication treatments include electro-analgesia (devices that use low voltage electricity to provide pain relief), acupuncture (including acupuncture only in the ear), psychotherapy (for pain coping education), physical therapy (to maintain functionality), and formal exercise regimens (i.e., yoga and tai chi).

Chronic pain, like opioid use disorder, is a disabling condition that requires our attention. Talk to your pharmacist or prescriber for more information.

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