NHS Doncaster CCG has launched a campaign to raise awareness of opioid abuse to help those dependant on them to get off them for good.
Addictive and dangerous, opioids are a class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant that work in the brain to produce a variety of effects, including the relief of pain.
Opioids are very good analgesics for acute pain and pain at the end of life but there is little evidence that they are helpful for long-term pain.
Although the CCG and local hospital trusts do not support the long-term prescribing of opioids, Doncaster has one of the country’s highest rates of opioid prescriptions with £1.9 million of opiates prescribed in the borough during 2020/21.
Dr Rao Kolusu, Locality Lead GP for East and Prescribing at NHS Doncaster CCG, said: “The majority of people who are prescribed these painkillers are on repeat prescriptions. However, taking opioids for longer than three months increases the potential for dependence and overdose which can have devastating consequences.”
What makes opioid medications effective for treating pain can also make them dangerous. At lower doses, opioids may make you feel sleepy, but higher doses can slow your breathing and heart rate, which can lead to death. And the feelings of pleasure that result from taking an opioid can make you want to continue experiencing those feelings, which may lead to addiction.
Dr Kolusu said: “Although opioids can be very effective for controlling pain in injury or operation, and for end-of-life pain, their effects are limited in long term chronic pains like arthritis and neuropathic pains. As well as being addictive and carrying a risk of overdose, opioids can also cause side effects such as immune suppression and respiratory depression which not many people realise.”
The new campaign aims to raise awareness of what opioids can help with but most importantly highlights that pain killers don’t kill pain, they only mask it.
Dr Kolusu explains: “When opioid pain killers do not resolve pain, patients should stop taking them and speak to their GP for advice on alternative medications or treatment. Sometimes, there is no effective alternative medication due to long term side effects but there are many non-medication options around for pain management. Often, the anxiety of not being able to manage the pain prevents patients from attempting to stop the opioid medication or seek any advice which is the main message of this campaign – please speak to us and let us help reduce your risk of having opioid related complications.”
There are many non-opioid pain medications that are available over the counter or by prescription, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, which some patients find help. Other people find relief with nondrug therapies that can be used alone or in combination with medications. These include:
- Physical therapy – A physical therapist or physician who specialises in physical medicine and rehabilitation may be able to create an exercise programme that helps you improve your ability to function and decreases your pain. Whirlpools, ultrasound, and deep-muscle massage may also help.
- Acupuncture – You may find relief from acupuncture, in which very thin needles are inserted at different places in your skin to interrupt pain signals.
- Surgery – When other treatments aren’t effective, surgery can be performed to correct abnormalities in your body that may be responsible for your pain.
- Injections or nerve blocks – If you are having a muscle spasm or nerve pain, injections with local anaesthetics or other medications can help short-circuit your pain.
Many patients also find relief from massages and other relaxation techniques, as well as psychological therapies and pain management courses.
Dr Kolusu said: “There are many alternative and effective options of managing pain which will help not only in controlling pain, but help you stay well long term. Your GP can guide you on safely reducing and stopping opioids after a thorough review of your conditions and medications. They can also signpost you to access alternative therapies which can help with your mental and emotional wellbeing whilst reducing and stopping opioid medication.”
For more information about opioids and pain management visit www.doncasterccg.nhs.uk/your-care/pharmacies/painmeds.