Why Opioids are Dangerous and How Therapy Can Help


Once again, the connection between therapy as pain treatment instead of the use of opioid pain medication is in the spotlight. An NPR reporter took a deeper look at pain management programs across the country that aim to help patients suffering from chronic pain get off of pain medication. The programs are focused on the emotional, social, and psychological aspects of pain in an effort to help patients reduce their dependence on opioids. Across the healthcare industry, there is a movement to try to find ways to replace the use of opioid pain medication for long-term pain, because opioids have proven to be very dangerous when used over long periods of time. So, let’s make the connection of why opioids are dangerous and how therapy can help.

Why Opioids Are Dangerous

In order to understand why opioids are dangerous, you first have to grasp how they work and how they affect the brain. Many times, people jump to conclusions about opioid addiction, and it’s simply because they don’t understand the science behind the chemical. Many people think addiction could never happen to them until they realize how easily it could.

why opioids are dangerous

How Opioids Work

Opioids don’t treat pain by removing the pain itself, but by removing the user’s perception of pain. Opioids target the part of the brain that perceives pain and replaces that perception with the sense of pleasure instead. Basically, it releases a feel-good chemical through the body that feels good. Overtime, this can change brain wiring to seek out pleasure, or “crave” that good feeling. It can also make the feeling of pain more intense.

Side Effects of Opioids

Some side effects of opioid use include sedation, dizziness, vomiting, and respiratory depression. Long-term side effects are more intense, like pain sensitivity, reduced energy and drive and increased risk of heart attacks or infections. The longer a person is taking opioid pain medication, the more risk they have of becoming addicted. Their bodies most likely are already dependent on opioids, and they will go through withdrawal when they try to stop taking them. Symptoms of withdrawal include muscle aches, anxiety, nausea, and vomiting and rapid heartbeat, to name a few.

Opioid Overdoses

Are you beginning to see why opioids are dangerous? Not only do they put the user at risk of negative side effects and serious withdrawal symptoms, but they also put them at risk of a drug overdose. Statistics show that one in every four opioid users fall victim to the dangerous effects of opioid abuse, with potentially fatal results. For all these reasons, there’s a push to find ways to use opioids less.

How Therapy Can Help

The pain management programs highlighted by NPR that help ween people off of opioids do so by focusing on occupational therapy, physical therapy, and mental health treatment. In an interview with Wesley Gilliam, who is the clinical director for the Pain Rehabilitation Center at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., he explained that they start with teaching people meditation and relaxation exercises. Being in pain all of the time causes stress, so it’s important for people to know how to relax and loosen their muscles. Beyond that, physical therapy activities can help work out certain areas, where as occupational therapy can teach people how to cope with anger, anxiety and the continual pain and opioid withdrawal they may be experiencing.

As a travel therapist – whether you focus on physical, occupational, or mental health – What are some ways you are teaching your patients about why opioids are dangerous? Are you using alternative treatment methods to help people suffering from chronic pain? Share with us in the comments below!

Author: Lenay Ruhl

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