Pain Management- Finding Balance in Treatments for Pain

Prescription pain medication has one job: treat the patient’s pain. This makes it a common solution.

Despite the pain-relieving benefits, prescription pain medication used outside of a doctor’s orders, in conjunction with unapproved medications or in excess dosages, can put the patient at risk for addiction, organ damage or even death. This is especially true with opioids.

While there are many less dangerous, non-opioid solutions, the widespread prescribing practices related to opioids has resulted in large numbers of people experiencing the side effects of prescription pain medication misuse.

Bad medications?

Prescription pain medications like opioids are not “bad.” They were created and are prescribed to help in a patient’s life by offering pain relief.

According to Dr. Matthew Wagner of Meritus Behavioral Health, problems related to prescription pain medications arise when a patient is prescribed opioids, but later develops tolerance as a result of long-term use. This then causes an escalation in dosage, which in turn can lead to physical dependence.

"At this point the patient may move from treating a medical condition to addiction," said Dr. Wagner.

When opioids are used properly for short term or terminal conditions, patients can avoid negative side effects and experience positive results.

Alternatively, there are ways to address pain without using opioids, which may be a better option for patients who are predisposed toward addiction or have previously struggled with it.

Over-the-counter alternatives

There are many pain management alternatives available to patients outside of prescription pain medication, such as over-the-counter pain medications, physical exercise, relaxation techniques and even massage.

Dr. Wagner explained that some studies have discovered patients can experience comparable short-term pain relief by alternating a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug or NSAID such as Ibuprofen with an acetaminophen like Tylenol.

"It’s vital that physicians develop an individualized approach for each patient that focuses on non-opioid solutions to address the underlying problems," said Dr. Wagner.

Public awareness and initiatives

Many in our community have a firsthand experience with the consequences of opioid addition, including the physicians, nurses and staff at Meritus Medical Center.

"We are committed to being a good partner with our community by educating Washington County about opioids with campaigns such as Washington Goes Purple, by providing assessment and treatments and by offering peer support counselors for those in need," said Dr. Wagner.

“If a patient is in pain, it’s the doctor's responsibility to treat it, but that’s not necessarily an opening for opioids to be prescribed unless they are the best solution for that individual,” he said.

Engage your doctors

Dr. Wagner’s advice for patients is this: “For any medical problem, it always goes better if you are an educated patient and an active partner in your treatment.”

He recommends every patient to have the courage to ask his/her doctor about any medications prescribed, especially opioids. It’s OK to ask about alternatives and to make sure the doctor is prescribing the best pain medication to treat your needs.

Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and explore non-opioid or even non-medication solutions. After all, your doctor wants to help you be pain and addiction free and enjoy good health!

Meritus Health, at 11116 Medical Campus Road, east of Hagerstown, is the largest health system in the area, providing hospital and outpatient services to the community. Subscribe to Your Health Matters, a monthly e-newsletter with important health information, at