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Pain management: be aware of the risks of prescription drugs

Last month, we wrote about managing your stress when recovering from a work injury.

As we noted in our April 9 post, this is an entirely normal activity that typically goes along with the workers' compensation process.

There is another ongoing activity, however, that is also common after many job injuries: the need to manage chronic pain. In this post, we will discuss pain management in the workers' comp context, particularly with regard to the tendency that many doctors have for prescribing pain pills.

As we noted in our article on prescription painkillers, a huge medical-pharmaceutical industry has grown up around the production and marketing of such painkillers.

Many of these drugs, such as Oxycontin and Vicodin, are opioids, which means they are essentially narcotics. Though such drugs can be useful in managing chronic pain, they can also be very addictive.

Addiction, in this sense, goes beyond becoming physically dependent on the drug. It involves the need for ever-increasing doses of a drug and the possibility of overdosing on it.

The problem with this isn't only that overdoses can be fatal. It is also that prolonged reliance on opiate-based drugs can have serious health consequences. These consequences can include:
• Damage to the immune system
• Sleep problems
• Heightened sensitivity to pain (hyperalgesia)

Our point is not that opioids are so dangerous that they should always be avoided as painkillers. Clearly, however, the issue of pain management requires a clear-sighted approach that acknowledges the potential downside of drug reliance.

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