By all entertainment industry standards, Prince was an international superstar. Although the official cause of death has not been released, multiple news outlets are reporting that Prince’s untimely death may have been the result of overdosing on commonly used pain medications; a medication that was reportedly prescribed to treat musculoskeletal pain. If confirmed, this will be yet another example of the deleterious side-effects of overprescribed pain medications.
To understand the potential harmful effects of opioid pain medications, including the potential for addiction and dependency that some patients using opioid medications may experience, it is important to recognize that opioid pain medications, such as Percocet, Vicodin, and Morphine are structurally similar in chemical composition to heroin, the highly addictive and too often deadly street drug.
Currently, there is an epidemic of opioid pain medication over-prescribing in the United States. Startling statistics reveal that while the U.S. compromises only 5% of the world’s population, it consumes nearly 80% of all opioid pain medications. Most patients using opioid pain prescriptions are able to use them effectively and responsibly to better manage severe acute and chronic pain conditions, such as post surgical pain. Unfortunately, because these prescription pain medications share structurally similar properties of heroin, including the binding to the same receptor sites in the brain, a minority of patients may be susceptible to experiencing a feeling of euphoria in addition to pain relief, which may be a precursor to addiction.
Patients can also develop a tolerance to opioid medications, requiring escalating doses to achieve the same clinical effect. Some patients may experience cravings when the opioid medication is absent from the body. And, similar to heroin, patients may go through acute withdrawal when stopping the medication abruptly. In some circumstances, patients may report that they do not feel well after stopping the pain medication, when in reality, they are likely experiencing early symptoms of drug withdrawal.
As an Interventional Pain Physician, I recognize that there are many differing approaches to managing pain. My primary goal with any patient is to decrease pain and improve functionality. NSPC physicians strive to help patients to return to being able to do the things they want to do, such as work, play with their kids, or enjoy a pain-free walk. There are many types of interventions, including non-opioid medications, that can be used to help patients decrease their pain.
There are definitely times when opioid pain medication may play a vitally important role in the successful treatment of pain. When they are used, they should be used at the lowest effective dose and for the shortest duration possible.
If either the dose or the duration needs to be increased, the patient should ideally be evaluated by an experienced pain physician, who would assess if the pain would be better controlled with alternate techniques beyond just increasing pain medication dosing, such as interventions or other adjunct pain medications.
Pain Management as a specialty has evolved dramatically in its ability to successfully treat pain. As pain physicians, we have a multitude of advanced interventional techniques available in our armamentarium to combat pain.
If you are experiencing pain, you deserve to get the best and most state-of-the-art treatment available to decrease your pain and return you to normal function. Minimize the risk of becoming a victim of opioid addiction. If nothing else, Prince’s untimely death reminds us that no one is immune from the potential risks that opioid pain medications pose.
Responsible Use of Opioids in Managing Chronic Pain
The collective goal of board-certified pain specialists in our practice is to relieve pain, maximize function and improve quality of life. While our focus remains on minimally invasive interventional-oriented techniques, we remain steadfast that when determined appropriate by your treatment team, opioid medications among a host of many available adjunct tools in a multimodal approach, can more effectively and comprehensively treat pain. We also advocate that when opioid medications are prescribed, that it be done so in the safest and most responsible way possible.