The Risks of Opioid Use for Chronic Pain Management




Dr. Erol Onel serves Heron Therapeutics in La Jolla, California, as company vice president. In this position Dr. Erol Onel leads a team working toward the FDA approval for a non-opioid pain management drug.

There are a number of risks when it comes to using opioids as a medical solution for chronic pain management. The most significant risk involves patients becoming completely dependent on an opioid to manage pain levels, both physically and psychologically. This dependency has the potential to quickly evolve into drug addiction. Studies have indicated that individuals with past histories of substance abuse are at a higher risk for opioid dependency and addiction, pressing the need for non-opioid alternatives.

Controlled studies have found the rate of dependency and substance abuse among opioid-using populations to be as high as 12 percent. Considering more than 38 percent of Americans take prescribed painkillers on a regular basis, more than the number of Americans using tobacco products, this rate of addiction could translate to 14 million individuals. Additional risks associated with prolonged opioid use for pain management include difficulty focusing, hormonal changes, and opioid induced hyperalgesia.