Although tremendous strides have been made in the effort to reduce opioid misuse, dependance on prescription opioid pain medication remains a prominent challenge in the United States. Since 1999, overdose deaths related to opioids have quintupled according to the CDC, impacting millions of lives. Although a large number of these deaths are related to illicit and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, traditional prescription opioids still represent a risk to many people.
When used appropriately, opioids can be an essential part of the treatment and recovery process for chronic pain. But in the vast majority of situations, opioids are intended for temporary use. To ensure a successful transition to non-pharmaceutical pain management, doctors and patients can often benefit from working together to develop an opioid tapering plan.
By learning more about this process, and how to find effective interventional pain management, anyone can safely stay on the path of effectively managing their pain.
Understanding opioid tapering
Opioid tapering is the practice of gradually reducing dosage of prescription opioid medications so patients can begin to wean off of the drug and find alternatives for pain management. Opioids can be so dangerous because the body builds up a tolerance, meaning that higher and higher dosages are required to be effective. Eventually, doses can become so high that the risk of an overdose increases substantially.
However, stopping opioids instantly can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms and an elevated risk of relapsing. This is why the most effective approach is for doctors to help patients gradually decrease their dosage and/or frequency of taking opioids, making it safer and easier to eventually stop altogether.
According to the CDC, effective guidelines for opioid tapering include:
- Personalizing tapering plans based on individual pain levels and length of prescription
- Going slow and decreasing dosage by no more than 10% a week
- Ensuring patients get additional psychological and behavioral support to deal with dependency
- Collaborating with patients and other providers to get buy in and provide effective pain management alternatives
Patients who are taking prescription opioid medications and are interested in beginning an opioid tapering program should speak with their primary care doctor or pain management specialist. With a positive attitude and support from providers and family members, it is possible to successfully taper and transition from prescription opioids to other forms of pain management.
Transitioning to an effective pain management program
Depending on the source of symptoms and underlying condition, there are a wide range of opioid alternatives to help manage pain. The goal should be to address the root causes as much as possible while improving overall health. By combining a tapering program with comprehensive interventional pain management, many patients are able to find long-term relief while discontinuing prescription opioids.
Effective pain management options that can coexist with opioid tapering include:
- Over-the-counter medications — Pain relievers such as acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories such as naproxen can have a reduced risk of being habit forming and while helping to relieve pain after opioid tapering.
- Physical therapy — Working with a physical therapist can help patients build a stronger and more flexible body. This can help with pain relief both directly and indirectly by reducing pressure on nerves and breaking up painful bundles of tissue.
- Lifestyle changes — Staying active and eating a diet rich in nutrients and anti-inflammatory foods can help increase overall health and reduce the body perceives and processes pain signals.
- Pain management injections — Injections ranging from nerve blocks to epidural steroid injections can reduce pain and inflammation in a targeted area for weeks at a time or longer. This can help many patients dealing with chronic pain complete steps such as physical therapy or lifestyle changes they may not be possible otherwise.
- Alternative therapies — Techniques ranging from acupuncture to massage therapy help a large number of patients find relief, especially when combined with other conservative pain management approaches.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to pain management, and it’s essential to find a pain management specialist who understands your unique needs and treatment goals.
Continue your pain relief journey with PPOA
Physician Partners of America (PPOA) believes in individualized, expert-supported compassionate care to help anyone overcome the pain treadmill. By working closely with everyone who comes to us, we help achieve meaningful relief through evidence-based therapies. If you are dealing with serious pain and do know where to turn next, PPOA can help.
Reach out today to find a pain management specialist who can help you take the next step and get your life back.