Opiate pain killers can be very dangerous.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 2/3 of the 63,632 drug overdose deaths in 2016 were due to opiate use.  Unfortunately, the rate of opiate-related deaths is skyrocketing.  The CDC notes that the overdose death rate from synthetic opiates, like Fentanyl, has more than doubled.  The death toll from prescription opiate has risen 10.6%, and as even more synthetic opioids become more readily available, it is likely that overdose deaths will continue to increase.  In addition, The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that prescription opiate misuse in the United States costs $78.5 billion a year including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.  The economic and public health impact of opiate pain killers is of crisis proportions.

But unlike many other drugs, opiate abuse affects large swaths of America’s demographic groups. In fact, the problem has become so widespread that the Department of Transportation has even updated their DOT drug testing regulations in January or 2018 in an attempt to curb abuse of this powerful narcotic. This epidemic is especially problematic within the veterans community. The worst part is that addiction to, and abuse of opiates is often the result of a patient suffering an injury, being given a legitimate prescription, and following their doctor’s orders about use.

Why are opiates so dangerous?

Carrie Krieger, Pharm.D., says the main reasons people like to use opiate painkillers are that they block pain and increase feelings of pleasure.  Dr. Krieger also notes the primary dangers are that they slow breathing and heart rate, and when not taken according to your doctor’s specific instructions, can easily cause death by overdose.  In addition, because of their ability to provide pleasure, it is easy to get addicted and want to use more than is necessary.   Daniel Pendick, former executive editor of Harvard Men’s Health Watch, says that it is easy to develop a tolerance for opiates and “you can end up taking dangerously high doses just to maintain the same level of relief.”  He also says that they are especially potent when mixed with other drugs and alcohol.  It’s important to point out that opiates have many negative side effects, including constipation, sedation, and cognitive impairment. Opiate pain killers may work well at relieving pain but they are easily misused and abused.

Alternatives to opiate pain killers

Natural supplements

Luckily, there are several natural remedies to opiate pain killers that are much safer.  Three of the most well known are turmeric, white willow bark, and capsaicin.  Turmeric comes from the ginger family and has anti-inflammatory properties.  It works well for back and joint pain. Due to its popularity, turmeric can be found in many grocery store spice sections.  White willow bark is also an anti-inflammatory.  It works especially well on headaches. It has been called “nature’s aspirin,”  and comes in tea or in capsule form.  Finally, capsaicin works well for arthritis pain.  It is naturally found in chili peppers.  If you don’t like the idea of spicy food, it also comes in skin cream, gel, or a patch.  Like any other supplement, you need to use them in moderation.  Just because it is a natural supplement does not mean it is okay to use an unlimited amount.

Alternative treatments for pain relief

Taking supplements is not your only option to relieve pain without using opiates.  There are several treatments which have clinically proven positive outcomes in relieving pain.  Although it may not be known exactly how acupuncture works, it has been shown to relieve headaches, osteoarthritis, and even generalized pain.  Spinal manipulation, as you might guess, has been shown to help with back and neck pain.  Finally, research suggests that massage may alleviate neck pain and osteoarthritis. Depending on your health care plan, insurance may even cover some of the costs of these alternative treatments.

Self-help practices for pain management

There are self-help practices that have been found to be effective in alleviating different types of chronic pain.  Unlike the above treatments, these can be done without professional aid. Research suggests that yoga may reduce generalized and lower back pain. Relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery, have been found to help calm inflamed muscles and alleviate pain.  Finally, meditation/mindfulness techniques have been linked with helping reduce generalized pain.  Here is some information on simple meditation techniques to get you started. Self-help practices have certain advantages.  First, they are often free. They are also convenient, and can be done on your own time without having to schedule an appointment. In addition, implementing these practices are good for your overall physical and mental health, as well as for pain.

Opiate pain killers work effectively, but carry many side effects and risks and are prone to abuse.  Thankfully, there are non-opiate alternatives that are effective and don’t have the accompanying serious consequences.  By utilizing natural supplements, treatments, and healthy practices you can help alleviate pain and improve your lifestyle.