Prescription pain pills perpetuate pain

You probably already know that opioid painkillers are extremely addictive. And if you don’t, just ask one of the 2.1 million Americans who are addicted to them.

You probably also know that they are extremely dangerous… so dangerous that in 2015, close to 20,000 Americans died from opioid painkiller overdoses.

But I bet you didn’t know that by taking prescription opioid painkillers to deal with chronic pain you’re actually making your problem worse.

And I’m not talking about all of the uncomfortable side effects that come with these painkillers (like constipation, dizziness, nausea and vomiting) that make your life worse in general.

I’m saying that these painkillers actually make your chronic pain more chronic.

Researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder found that taking these painkillers for even a few days totally changes the way the nerve cells in your spine perceive pain — and not in a good way.

“We are showing for the first time that even a brief exposure to opioids can have long-term negative effects on pain,” said Peter Grace, who is a faculty member in CU-Boulder’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and lead researcher in the study. “We found the treatment was contributing to the problem.”

Basically, when you take opioid painkillers for five days or more, the immune cells in your spinal cord (known as glial cells) go into overdrive, which causes spinal inflammation and — you guessed it — more pain.

This means, in the long run, you’re going to experience way more pain than if you never took painkillers in the first place. In fact, opioid painkillers can increase the duration of your pain by several months.

By taking opioid painkillers, you’re also putting yourself at greater risk for addiction, since the longer you experience pain the longer you’re likely to continue taking the drugs and the more likely you are to get hooked.

“The implications for people taking opioids like morphine, oxycodone and methadone are great, since we show the short-term decision to take such opioids can have devastating consequences of making pain worse and longer lasting,” said Linda Watkins, another study researcher and CU-Boulder professor. “This is a very ugly side to opioids that had not been recognized before.”

These findings have huge implications for those who suffer from chronic pain, but also for those who have an acute injury. Think about it. The next time you hurt yourself seriously enough to warrant a painkiller prescription, if you take the prescription for five days or longer, you’re setting yourself up for a world of hurt…or at least a few extra months of it.

So why not do things a little bit different than the millions of Americans taking opioid painkillers to treat their pain? Why not try something without all of the side effects and the huge risk of addiction? And most importantly, why not try something that’s not going to make your pain worse in the long run — like safe and effective natural methods that treat both chronic and acute pain…

Turmeric is a truly incredible natural pain reliever, and as an anti-inflammatory, it benefits your body in a bunch of other ways too. And acupuncture is actually considered one to the best natural pain relief methods available and has been shown in research studies to reduce chronic pain by at least 50 percent. Many chronic pain sufferers also swear by medical marijuana for pain relief, so if that’s an option where you live, you may want to look into it.

  1. “America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  2. Benyamin, A.M. Trescot, S. Datta, R. Buenaventura, R. Adlaka, N. Sehgal, S.E. Glaser, R. Vallejo. “Opioid complications and side effects.” Pain Physician. 2008 Mar; 11(2 Suppl):S105-20.
  3. “Narcotic painkillers prolong pain in rats.” University of Colorado-Boulder. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  4. “Acupuncture is worth a try for chronic pain.” Harvard Medical School. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and