Myths and facts on painkillers General Health Tips Leave a Comment

Have you ever wondered if taking painkillers for a long time is bad for your body?

I’m not talking about Tylenol, Ibuprofen or Aleve. I’m talking about opioids.

Not sure if you are taking one?

Some of the most commonly prescribed opioids are hydrocodone (e.g. Vicodin), oxycodone (e.g. OxyContin, Percocet), and morphine. Many of us have taken one of these prescription drugs for some kind of pain.

“If you knew a few things about these drugs, you really would think twice before taking them casually just because a doctor prescribes them.” 

In the past 20 years, opioid prescriptions in the U.S. skyrocketed, because it became legal to prescribe opioids to treat chronic non-cancer pain. The pharmaceutical companies did not miss out on this big opportunity, and have marketed these drugs aggressively. (1)

Before this opioid crisis just sort of exploded in our face, we’ve made some really foolish and dangerous assumptions.

Myth: Opioids are safe, as long as they are prescribed by doctors.

Fact: Opioid painkillers have killed more people than cocaine and heroin combined, and most of these deaths (60%) happen when the doctors followed prescribing guidelines by medical boards. (1)

Myth: Opioids are effective, as long as they are prescribed by doctors.

Fact: When we really looked into the effectiveness of opioids in treating chronic pain, the result is inconclusive. (2) To put it another way, the result is an underwhelming “meh”.

Myth: Unlike heroin, prescribed opioid painkillers do not cause heroin addiction. 

Fact: Over-prescription of opioids has led to a sharp increase in opioid addiction in both medical and nonmedical users, and this over-prescription is also associated with increase in heroin abuse. (3)

Myth: Opioids are my best options for getting a handle on chronic pain.

Fact: Effective treatment modalities for chronic pain include manipulation, manual therapy, endurance exercise, stretching, strengthening, behavioral therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and mindfulness-based stress reduction. . (4)

As more and more opioids are prescribed, there is another problem we didn’t pay much attention to until a few years ago. Scientists are afraid that chronic use of these painkillers may make you MORE sensitive to pain after all. . (5) As this is a fairly new problem, we don’t fully understand how it happens. Nonetheless, the problem is real and significant.

Sometimes, you may not feel like you have a choice besides medications. The fact is, most of the time you do. I’ve seen patients with 30 years of chronic headaches, persistent pain after surgery, chronic low back pain, and many other unexplained chronic pain, and most of them report complete resolution or significant relief after going through specific neurological and orthopedic rehabilitation at our office. If you know someone who is struggling with chronic non-cancer pain, advise him/her to seek out conservative care first.

P.S. I hope you like John Oliver. Enjoy.


  1. Manchikanti L, et al. Opioid epidemic in the United States. Pain Physician. 2012 July;15(3 Suppl):ES9-38.
  2. Cheatle MD. Prescription opioid misuse, abuse, morbidity, and mortality: balancing effective pain management and safety. Pain med. 2015 Oct;16 Suppl 1:S3-8.
  3. Kolodny A, et al. The prescription opiod and heroin crisis: a public health approach to an epidemic of addiction. Annu Rev Public Health. 2015 Mar 18;36:559-74.
  4. Chang KL, Fillingim R, Hurley RW, Schmidt S. Chronic pain management: nonpharmacological therapies for chronic pain. FP Essent. 2015 May;432:21-6.
  5. Yi P, Pryzbylkowski P. Opioid induced hyperalgesia. Pain Med. 2015 Oct;16 Suppl 1:S32-6.

About the Author

Dr. Lily Semrow is a Board Certified Chiropractic Neurologist who focuses on Neuro-Structural Correction. She has a B.S. in Nutrition and a doctorate in Chiropractic. She has a passion for serving families, and helping people who could not get better through traditional and alternative means.  Make sure and follow us on Google+.

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