Deb Houry, M.D., MPH
Two in 10 Americans experience chronic pain. In all communities, large and small, urban and rural, people are hurting.
Pain is complex and personal, so much so that friends and family may not even know a loved one is suffering in silence. In my role as a physician, I have witnessed the profound impact pain can have on a person’s life and have seen first-hand how many lives it touches.
Fortunately, people do not have to suffer alone, and there are options for pain management.
Patients and clinicians can work together to develop a treatment plan that may or may not involve medications, depending on the individual and their specific treatment goals. Sometimes opioids are prescribed as part of this treatment plan, if the potential benefits are felt to outweigh the risks for a patient. However, prescription opioids can be addictive if not managed properly.
Having a strong patient-provider relationship and regular visits for ongoing, quality care is important. And during COVID-19, employing all resources possible, including telemedicine, can help patients get the care they need.
One serious risk of prescription opioids is overdose, and timely action with evidence-based prevention efforts can reduce that risk. Risks increase for people who have been previously treated for a nonfatal overdose, and people who are leaving jail or prison. High dosages over prolonged periods, and using opioids with alcohol or other drugs can also increase a person’s risk of overdose.
Overdose prevention strategies can include providing naloxone (a life-saving medication that can reverse an opioid overdose) to patients taking opioid medications. Naloxone can also be provided to family members and bystanders in the community, who can administer it if someone has had an overdose.
Also, recognizing and diagnosing opioid use disorder can allow patients to receive treatment with medications, such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. These medications can support a person’s recovery by helping to balance chemicals in the brain, relieve cravings for opioids, and in some cases prevent withdrawal symptoms.
Support services, including recovery coaches and peer groups, are an important part of each person’s recovery journey.
Everyone can play a role. Reach out if you think you or someone you know is struggling. Talk to family members, friends, or a healthcare professional and get help. There is no need to suffer in silence.