Narcotic pain relievers are often used to treat acute back pain

The use of narcotic pain relievers for back pain relief is common in the treatment of back pain, neck pain or sciatica. In a recent study of more than 200,000 insured individuals with low back problems, more than 40% received a prescription for opioids.

However, much controversy has recently arisen over the use of narcotics for the treatment of chronic, non-cancer pain. Aside from the lack of hardcore scientific evidence to support the use of narcotic pain relievers for chronic back pain, the prescription of these drugs has resulted in huge collateral damage to modern societies, with increases in death through misuse, abuse, and overdose reported over the last two decades.

Here’s a nice review of narcotic pain medication to treat back pain that was published in

Opiate Pain Relievers For Low Back Pain

Opiates are also called opioids or narcotics.

Opiates are sometimes combined with other medicines. For example, Tylenol 3 is codeine combined with acetaminophen, and Percodan is oxycodone combined with aspirin.

Opiates relieve pain by altering the way your body feels pain and the way you feel about pain.

Opiates are usually reserved for the treatment of severe short-term (acute) back or leg pain that has not responded to other medicines. Because opiates are potentially addictive, they are usually prescribed only for 1 to 2 weeks.

Sometimes opiates are used for people who cannot take pain medicines such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) because they have conditions such as heart, kidney, or liver problems. Or opiates may be used for people who take other medicines that should not be combined with pain medicines.

There is no clear evidence that opiates help either acute or chronic low back pain.1, 2 They seem to help some people, but sometimes the amount of medicine you need for relief causes side effects that make daily functioning difficult. Further study is necessary.

Opiate pain relievers for low back pain should only be administered by health professionals with experience in chronic pain management. There is a significant potential for addiction and other complications from prolonged use of this type of medicine.

Side effects from opiate pain relievers for low back pain may include:

  • Confusion (especially in older adults).
  • Drowsiness.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Constipation.
  • Decreased urination.
  • Impaired breathing.

Opiates are not intended for use until all pain goes away. They are intended to be used only for a few days to get you through the most severe pain.

You may become physically dependent on opiates if you take them regularly. Physical dependence is not addiction, but rather a gradual change in your body in response to the opiates. If you stop taking opiates abruptly, you may develop nausea, sweating, chills, diarrhea, and shaking. The physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening. You can avoid withdrawal symptoms if you gradually stop taking the opiates over a set period of time, as prescribed by your doctor.

Ivanova JI et al., Real-world practice patterns, health-care utilization, and costs in patients with low back pain: The long road to guideline concordant care, The Spine Journal, 2011 [epub ahead of print]; 11(7):622–32; doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2011.03.017.

McIntosh G, Hall H (2008). Low back pain (acute), search date May 2007. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence:

McIntosh G, Hall H (2008). Low back pain (chronic), search date May 2007. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence:

Do you have additional questions about narcotic pain relievers for chronic back pain relief? We have put together a Patient Guide that discusses medications for back pain in more detail. If you would like access to this informative and easy to understand Patient Guide, just click this link and we’ll make sure you get your copy today. Patients’ Guide To Medications For Back Pain

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