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Health Team

Ask Dr. Mask: How to ease pain without dangerous prescription meds

Posted November 14, 2017 9:24 a.m. EST
Updated November 14, 2017 9:25 a.m. EST

Just about everyone experiences some degree of pain once in a while.

For some severe pains, doctors might prescribe opioid pain relievers, but those prescriptions come with the risk of dangerous drug dependence. WRAL Health Team's Dr. Allen Mask said one of the questions that patients ask him the most often is how to ease the pain while avoiding medications.

From migraine headaches to neck pain and shingles to back strains, pain can be acute, lasting just a few days or a few weeks, or it can be chronic, lasting three months or longer. When prescribing medications to treat the pain, doctors are concerned about narcotics, particularly medications like Vicodin and Percoset.

"Sometimes, just a quick prescription of a narcotic is the very worst thing we can do," said Dr. Graham Snyder, a WakeMed emergency physician.

Snyder said over-the-counter pain relievers, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, can be effective for many patients with mild to moderate pain.

"(They) can be used for all sorts of conditions, like headache, lower back pain or even things more severe like kidney stones," Snyder said.

He says doctors should only prescribe longer term narcotics for terminally ill or end-of-life patients.

Non-drug pain relief options include exercise, physical therapy, biofeedback and the use of heating pads or ice packs.

Alternative medicine offers approaches like acupuncture, hypnosis, aroma therapy, music therapy and exercises like Tai Chi and yoga.

Patients have different pain thresholds, and doctors need to be realistic about the amounts of medication fir the prescriptions they write. Doctors should write prescriptions for the smallest dose possible to get the achieved result and for the shortest amount of time. Doctors shouuld also consider other alternative means for pain relief.

A new law in North Carolina provides a statewide reporting system that helps identify patients who may be getting narcotic pain relievers from different doctors and from different locations.