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A Weekly Medical Minute: Opioid Pain Medication

I have had the blessing, and the challenge, of working with chronic pain patients in the era of the opioid epidemic. These patients have diagnoses like herniated discs in their spines, arthritis of knees, shoulders, or of other joints. They are in a lot of pain and it is often severe enough to make standing up for more than a few minutes very challenging. In a lot of cases these patients have been on opioid medications, such as OxyContin, Percocet, Oxycodone, Dilaudid, Codeine, Morphine, or Fentanyl. These were often prescribed by their primary care providers, and sometimes by pain specialists like myself. In the last two years, almost all of these patients have been taken off of these medications, as overdose deaths have risen across America.

It is absolutely for the best that these people have been taken off their prescribed opioids, as these medications are addictive and deadly. All of that said, it is easy for me to decide that taking them off is a good thing. I am not the one with crippling pain that does not abate with any other treatment or procedure. So what are all these people supposed to do? Do they just have to live with the pain?? The honest answer, some of the time, is… yes. Significant relief in a safe way is not always possible. Those who are in pain should certainly seek care with a specialist, as there are a large variety of treatment options that are safe and can be very effective in some cases, but the bottom line is that not everyone will find safe relief. Opioids are still not the answer.

Ephraim Sherman, DNP, RN, AGPCNP-BC

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