Addiction to Narcotic Medications
Recent media coverage of narcotic medications and addiction has led to serious misconceptions about the role of such medications in treating chronic pain. The media’s sensationalism of this issue has tragic repercussions for the more than 70 million Americans who suffer with chronic pain. The National Pain Foundation is concerned that such coverage, which reinforces misperceptions about narcotics, may lead to unnecessary withholding of these highly effective medications from patients who can benefit from narcotic treatment. The sensationalism also leads to reluctance on the part of patients to take such medications.
Confusion and misinformation surrounding physical dependence, tolerance, and addiction contribute to the already significant problem of the undertreatment of pain. Use of narcotics in the treatment of chronic pain rarely results in addiction. There are many options to treat chronic pain, ranging from medications, physical therapy, complementary therapies, psychological therapies, injections, and surgery. Narcotics are an effective option for treating pain for many individuals and can play a crucial role in pain control. When used appropriately, narcotic medications can significantly improve the quality of life for people living with chronic pain.
According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine (AAPM), long-term narcotic treatment rarely leads addiction. To increase understanding surrounding the risk of addiction in situations where narcotics may be used to manage pain, the AAPM, with the American Pain Society and the American Society of Addiction Medicine, developed a consensus document that defines addiction, physical dependence, and tolerance and explains the confusion surrounding these terms. These organizations assert that addiction is not a predictable side effect of narcotics, but rather an adverse reaction in individuals who may have a genetic predisposition and are psychosocially vulnerable to addiction. Taking narcotic medications is only one of the factors that lead to addiction in the small number of individuals who struggle with this issue.
The National Pain Foundation encourages people living with chronic pain, the public and health care providers to educate themselves on this important issue. The NPF encourages responsible, balanced reporting of this issue to prevent further misconceptions and the continued under treatment of pain and to ensure that people in pain have access to all available treatment options. Visit the American Academy of Pain Medicine’s web site, www.painmed.org, to read the consensus document from the AAPM, the American Pain Society, and the American Society of Addiction Medicine regarding the differences between physical dependence, tolerance, and addiction related to narcotic use.