In recent years advances have been made in the treatment of chronic pain. Some of these advances can decrease or eliminate the need for powerful or potentially addictive painkillers such as opioid analgesics, commonly referred to as narcotics. When medically necessary and appropriate, opioids are prescribed in accordance with professional guidelines which are meant to minimize the risk of addiction or other potential side effects.
Pain is meant to be a natural protective signal to the brain. Pain tells us to move our hands off a hot stove or to stop walking on a sprained ankle. It is the absence of pain that lets us know that our ankle has healed and that we can resume our normal lifestyle. Sometimes the source of the pain is harder to diagnose and far more complicated to deal with than a sprained ankle.
Diseases like diabetes, arthritis, repetitive injuries, or chronic problems with the back, hand, foot, or knee can lead to painful nerve damage that impacts mobility. When this happens, and especially when the problem that caused the acute pain has been poorly or incompletely treated, pain can become more than a protective signal. It can become the illness itself.
Pain originating from damaged nerves is called neuropathic pain to distinguish it from the more common types of pain we all experience every day. Neuropathic pain is fundamentally different from regular pain, and is frequently described as burning, tingling, electrical, hot, numb, or even cold.
Living with chronic pain is a serious problem for millions. It affects every aspect of life, such as work, play, and relationships with friends and family. Often, medications designed to relieve painful symptoms can lead to drug side effects. The unending cycle of pain, immobility, pills, and the constant search for a better or more effective treatment becomes the central focus of the victim's life.
Today, there is a specialty devoted to the diagnosis, care, and treatment of people who suffer from chronic pain, spearheaded by physicians certified by the American Academy of Pain Management and other groups. These physicians are specially trained in the use of modern anesthetics, pharmacologically active natural products, application of electric currents, or unique combinations of standard medications to control or eliminate chronic pain with fewer side effects. When opioids are required, they are used within the parameters of guidelines developed by professional organizations.
Because opioid analgesics are potentially addictive and are regulated by law, patients who use them regularly must agree to respect certain guidelines. For example, they must take their medications only as prescribed without increasing the dose unless authorized by the medical practitioner. Lost or stolen medications will generally not be replaced. Sometimes urine drug tests will be required. These guidelines are necessary to protect the patient and the practitioner. The improper use or diversion of opioid analgesics can lead to serious physical or legal consequences.