Painkiller Addiction, a Growing Epidemic
The number of people addicted to painkillers is growing and as part of an awareness campaign, there are many discussions around this in the press currently. Indeed there are now 26 million people on painkillers in the UK today. These include usage of painkillers such as oxycodene, codeine, tramadol, methadone and fentanyl.
One of these discussions included some amazing stories on Radio 5 live this morning. It really highlighted how the addiction has such a tragic effect on everyday people’s lives and the courage and commitment it takes to get through it, often with heroic support from their loved ones.
How it starts
One lady mentioned that she was prescribed painkillers for a slipped disc. Her physiotherapist then stated that the painkillers work by keeping a store in her system, so it made her fearful, that if she didn’t keep up the dosage, the pain would get worse.
It really demonstrates how it is so easy for one comment to trigger a new belief. It is so important, with recovering from injury, to have a positive approach and avoid fear.
Long term effects
It is important to know that new research shows that when you take painkillers, tolerance starts to build up as the receptors get saturated. They also have a number of physical and mental side effects. So whilst they can be very helpful in the short term, it is advisable to start to look at alternatives soon afterward.
It is therefore recommended to quickly work with your clinician to identify the underlying cause and address these rather than the symptoms. For instance, signposting on to the relevant specialist help, or to address any physical causal factors – such as overdoing weights, golf or gardening or indeed the reverse such as sitting slouching for too long or not doing any exercise at all.
I see so many people with such a huge variety of back issues, from arthritis, sciatica and slipped discs to fibromyalgia and scoliosis. What has emerged as a common theme, is that treatment by back specialists varies hugely. So, if you are seeing a physiotherapist, for instance, that isn’t getting you better and not giving you the tools and support to reduce your painkillers, it would be well worth considering finding an alternative or seeking additional help – see the tips list at the bottom.
I remember, during a very painful back episode, how I felt I had to have absolute trust from the physiotherapist that their exercises are going to work, giving me the confidence that it is worth working through the initial pain to get to recovery. So find the right support for you.
It is well known the negative effect that painkillers have on peoples ability to function properly, affecting work and relationships. Indeed, I have met a number of people recently, who despite chronic pain issues, have been determined to find other ways to manage their pain and been successful in instigating alternative coping strategies into their life. They wanted to be free from the mentally debilitating effects of opioid use and get back to working and participating in their lives.
So from numerous research and experience, the following can help, either on their own or as a combination, depending on the severity of your issue. Back pain is multi-causal so often needs a multidisciplinary approach:
- Physiotherapy -Easing out tension build up through specialist massage and prescribed exercises
Try and find one who understands your particular issue and has experience of treating it. They should be able to identify the underlying cause and able to recommend on if necessary.
If your physiotherapist is hands-off, it is worth getting an occasional sports massage to ease out the underlying tension build up so you can then speed up the rehabilitation effect of the exercises.
- Commitment to doing regular rehabilitation exercises (at home or at work)
- Pain diary – to identify any triggers
- Exercise – try exercise snacking if your movement is currently restricted
(ie small amounts of walking spread through the day rather than all in one go, even 5 minutes helps)
- Try gentle stretching exercise classes such as Tai chi, pilates or yoga – either a class or there are now many youtube videos!
- Look at anti-inflammatory food diets (Fod maps)
- Get your posture checked, both standing and sitting – it does make a big difference!
- Complimentary therapies
- CBT and mindfulness
- Specialist pain clinics
- Help groups, there are many specialist groups out there for your particular issue, ie Arthritis groups
- Take control. If you feel you aren’t getting the help you need, there is a lot of free information online. For instance, one useful resource is