More about drugs

For some people with severe back pain, pain medication becomes necessary. Pain medications may be administered to people with acute (short-term) pain in order to make functioning possible, or to people with chronic pain to make pain manageable while pursuing other forms of treatment to address the cause of pain.

That is the ideal situation. Unfortunately, many people suffer from what is called non-specific back pain, meaning that no cause is identified. People with acute back pain can quickly become chronic pain sufferers. Chronic back pain sufferers can quickly fall into the trap of being “treated” solely by drugs that mask the pain.

Many people trust their doctors to treat them in the best way possible, and would not question their prescriptions. However, an increasingly problematic phenomenon exists in the prescription of short-acting opioid medications for chronic pain management. Short-acting opioids are narcotic medications that provide pain relief for a brief period of time and require frequent re-dosing and, over time, higher doses in order to deliver the same pain-relieving effect.

Short-acting opioids are more habit-forming than long-acting medications and have unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, such as diarrhea, tremors and flu-like symptoms. They also act psychologically on the pain sufferer as the pain returns during withdrawal. Long-acting opioids are preferred to short-acting forms for chronic pain. Why, then, are internet forums full of people asking how to wean themselves off of percocet, a short-acting opioid comprised of oxycodone and acetaminophen?

Percocet is in the ranks of pain medications that combine a short-acting opioid with acetaminophen; others include vicodin (acetaminophen and hydrocodone) and Tylenol #3 (codeine and acetaminophen). Long-term acetaminophen use is well-known to be toxic to the liver. This fact, combined with the dangers of long-term use of short-acting opioids, makes these medications wholly unsuitable for chronic pain sufferers. Yet the prescriptions continue.