Taking prescription painkillers to ease chronic conditions, like an achy back or headache, is not worth the risk, the American Academy of Neurology recommended in a recent official announcement. (Try these 4 Tips to Outsmart Any Headache.)
These drugs, including Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet, are often prescribed for people being treated for cancer or following surgery or an injury. They're very effective in managing pain, but carry substantial risks:
They're addictive. Two-thirds of patients who were given a 3-month prescription were still on the drugs 5 years later, according to a recent study from the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences. The drugs require larger doses over time to remain effective, making them particularly susceptible to overdose, and their abuse can increase the risk of non-prescription alternatives, including heroin.
They can be deadly. More than 100,000 people have died in the last 15 years from prescription opioids, the AAN reports.
If you want relief for chronic conditions--without the risk of developing a dangerous drug habit-- ask your doctor about alternatives to narcotics, suggested Gary M. Franklin, M.P.H., the author of the AAN paper. (Scientists have discover prescription drugs in over-the-counter supplements. Find out what hazardous contaminations are lurking in your pills and powders.)
Your doctor might endorse these alternative options for managing pain:
• Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as Advil, as a non-addictive alternative;
• Physical therapy;
• Cognitive behavioral therapy, which involves talking to a therapist and learning techniques to manage pain mentally;
• Using biofeedback to better control your body’s internal processes;
• Visiting a multidisciplinary pain clinic, an outpatient program that involves doctors, physical therapists, and psychologists. (Do you want to know how to heal faster, train smarter, and build an injury-proof body? Find out the smart ways to stay Pain-Free for Life.)
If you're already taking a narcotic for a chronic condition, you should consider asking your doc about weaning you off the drug if you meet any of the following criteria, Dr. Franklin says:
• You or your family thinks you have become addicted;
• Your dose exceeds the morphine equivalent of 100 mg/day and it hasn't substantially improved your pain and daily functioning;
• You have overdosed in the past.
Your go-to painkiller may be more dangerous than you think. Here's Why You Might be Overdosing on Tylenol.