South Africans need to better understand the potential risks associated with using medication to combat pain, as even the use of certain pain medications, could lead to an individual needing professional help for addiction to opioids.
This according to Dr. Shaquir Salduker, board member of the Psychiatry Management Group, who says that individuals suffering from chronic or long term pain are at increased risk of becoming dependent on pain medication, if they do not manage their pain symptoms correctly.
Wouter Lombard, Brand Manager of Neuropsychiatry at Cipla, states that it is vital for consumers to have as much information as possible when using pain medication. “Reading the information included with the medication or following the directions of a pharmacist or doctor on the correct use of any medication is extremely important to help avoid any potentially negative side-effects.”
According to Dr. Salduker, opioid addiction is a very common problem among many South Africans. “We have had to help individuals from all walks of life, from executives to housewives, through very difficult rehabilitation.”
He adds that people who suffer from regular or prolonged pain are most at risk because they often make use of medicines containing opioids such as codeine. “Individuals recovering from injuries or surgery are usually prescribed these types of pain medication. While these types of drugs are very effective for treating severe pain in the short-term, using them for extended periods can have a number of negative health implications.”
Dr. Salduker explains that the human brain has opiate receptors, which are usually reserved for the body’s natural pain relief hormones. “All pain is located in the brain and the body produces hormones called Endorphins to help the brain block out certain kinds of pain. Without Endorphins, a person would not be able to exercise, perform physical labour, or even be able to sit down for long periods without experiencing severe pain. When the body releases Endorphins into the brain, an individual not only experiences pain relief but also a sense of wellbeing.”
He says that opioids like codeine are extremely effective because they also attach directly to the opiate receptors. “The result of opioids entering the brain is immediate pain relief as well as a sense of euphoria in the patient. Unfortunately, prolonged use of opioids creates a dependency in the patient. In addition to the body’s craving for the euphoric feeling, it reduces the amount of Endorphins that the body produces, making the patient even more sensitive to pain. In response to this the individual starts using more and more medication, leading to side-effects such as nightmares, insomnia, liver damage, seizures and other potentially life-threatening symptoms.”
Dr. Salduker says that recovery from this type of overuse is a difficult process. “Recovering from overuse of opioids can be likened to recovering from a heroin addiction. It is painful, it takes time and a multi-disciplinary team of professionals.
Lastly, he states that consumers should always follow the advice of their doctor or pharmacist. “Opioids are extremely important for helping people recover from severe pain, and this drug category has an important role to play in medical treatment. However, consumers should never use any medication for longer, or in higher doses, than recommended, and always remember to ask your doctor how long you can take these drugs,” Dr. Salduker concludes.