Opioid abuse is a significant cause of injury and death, affecting millions of Americans. Roughly 10 million Americans misuse opioid prescription drugs every year, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Listening to news reports about the opioid epidemic, it’s easy to come away with the idea that opioids are “bad” and that they are drugs that should be avoided at all costs. But actually, opioids are very useful, especially for people with chronic pain — as long as they’re used the way they’re prescribed.
Victor Mendoza, MD, and the team at Vulcan Pain Management have significant experience in prescribing opioid medications for patients with chronic pain, closely monitoring their use, so patients experience the benefits of these medicines without becoming addicted to them. Here’s what Dr. Mendoza and his team want you to know about this important class of drugs.
Opioids: What they are and how they work
Opioids are substances that act on nerve cell receptors, tiny proteins that control how nerves react and the way they communicate with the brain. When you feel pain, specific receptors react, sending chemicals to the brain, which interprets those chemical signals as the pain sensations we feel.
Opioids work by blocking those receptors, preventing the nerves from sending pain signals to your brain. Interestingly, your body produces its own “natural” opioids that act similarly, but without the risk of addiction that can happen with synthetic opioid drugs.
Researchers aren’t completely sure what it is about opioid drugs that make them so addictive. Still, recently scientists discovered that opioid drugs are more “far-reaching” than natural opioids, affecting internal parts of the nerve that aren’t affected by the opioids produced by your body. Synthetic opioids also act much faster. Combined, these two differences could explain why opioid medicines can become addictive.
Another reason why opioids are so addictive probably has to do with how these drugs make people feel. When abused (that is, used in a manner not as prescribed), some opioid medicines can cause feelings of euphoria that can be very appealing to many people. When abused, synthetic opioids “take over” and replace natural opioids, causing your body to become physically addicted.
When opioids are used
The same binding action that can lead to addiction makes opioids so powerful when it comes to relieving pain. Dr.Mendoza has significant experience prescribing opioids for patients with intense pain from injuries and some diseases like cancer.
But as a pain management specialist, Dr. Mendoza has experience with other pain management therapies. Many patients benefit from a combination of medication and non-medication therapies, like:
- Nerve blocks and other injections
- Physical therapy
- Over-the-counter medications
- Non-opioid medicines
- Topical gels
- Lifestyle modifications
What’s more, Dr. Mendoza has significant experience with newer medications designed to provide powerful pain relief while reducing the risk of becoming addictive.
Pain management is not one-size-fits-all
Pain can dramatically affect your life and your physical and emotional well-being. What’s more, pain affects everyone differently and in different ways.
Working with a pain management specialist like Dr. Mendoza means your pain management plan will be completely customized for your needs, so you can find relief while staying healthy. If you’re suffering from pain, Dr. Mendoza can help. To learn how, call 205-258-7246 or book an appointment online at our Birmingham, Alabama, practice today.