Prescription Lies: Five Myths about Prescription Pain Killers

When you’re in pain, you’re willing to do whatever it takes to feel better. For Americans diagnosed with chronic pain, getting a prescription for an opioid-based pain killer can seem like the only way to regain day-to-day function. But in desperation to find a treatment that effectively manages chronic pain, patients may rush into a treatment plan that fails to live up to their expectations or even meet their medical needs. Here are five of the biggest myths about prescription pain killers and the surprising truths about the drug they conceal.

Prescription pain killers are a permanent solution for chronic pain. Some chronic pain patients think that, with an opioid-based prescription, they have arrived at a final treatment plan they can depend on for years to come. In reality, most patients prescribed opioid-based drugs stop taking them within six months of their first prescription. Prescription opioids are usually intended to treat acute pain and are increasingly avoided for long-term pain management.

Fewer prescription opioids in circulation points to decreasing quality of care for patients. Overall the number of prescription opioids in circulation is decreasing, in part because of new guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to curb excessive prescriptions. This trend doesn’t indicate a parallel decline in patient treatment, however, but more responsible prescribing behavior by health care professionals. If anything, recent prescribing guidelines like those published by the CDC as well as a comprehensive report on addiction issued by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy will likely lead to better, more comprehensive treatment for patients.

Only people with a personal or family history of addiction should worry about developing an addiction. Addiction can develop in anyone, regardless of the individual’s personal health, family history, income bracket or education level. While there are risk factors that make someone more likely to develop an addiction, including traumatic experiences in early childhood, there are no prerequisites of any kind for developing an unhealthy dependence on prescription drugs. People without prior experience with opioid based drugs, medication or addiction may be tempted to shrug off questions about addiction at the doctor’s office, but acknowledging the very real risks inherent in prescription opioids is essential to their safe use.

The right medication can solve my health problems. Among many American patients, there is a prevailing assumption that the right drug can solve all problems. Although there’s no denying how crucial many medications, including prescription opioids, are to patients in pain, medical treatment does not begin and end with a bottle of pills. Being healthy means a whole host of activities including eating whole foods, regular exercise and a healthy outlook on life, not just the absence of negative symptoms.

Doctors agree on the best way to treat pain. Prescription opioids are a well-known tool available to physicians, but by no means is this class of drug the only remedy available to those experiencing chronic pain. Ultimately there is no one ‘right’ way to treat or manage pain, and any treatment plan for chronic pain should be made with input from both the doctor and the patient. What works best for one person may not be an option for someone else. The risks of some treatment options, like prescription opioids, may be serious enough to forgo them entirely, replacing opioids with other therapies, like acupuncture, that have fewer long-term health risks.