What are Alternatives to Opioid-based Pain Medication?

Opioids are a type of drug used to help manage pain. A health care professional may give you a prescription opioid to reduce pain after a major injury or surgery. These powerful drugs are important tools for managing pain. But they can also be harmful. For example, taking opioids can lead to addiction or even a deadly overdose. 

Examples of prescription opioid pain killers include oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl and tramadol. The illegal drug, heroin is also an opioid. It is estimated 4 to 6 percent of patients who misuse opioids will eventually transition to using heroin.

If you need surgery for a urologic condition, such as prostate cancer or the removal of a kidney stone, talk to your doctor about non-opioid pain management options. For example, you may be able to get pain relief by taking acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), or naproxen (Aleve). You may also be able to manage pain with ice packs or heating pads, also known as cold or heat therapy.

If your doctor thinks a prescription opioid is right for you, keep 3 things in mind.

First, prescription opioid pills should only be used to manage extreme pain right after surgery. You may only get enough pills to last 1 to 3 days.

Second, your doctor will start you on the lowest dose possible to reduce your risk of addition.

Third, it is important get rid of extra opioid pills so they aren't used by someone else. Some hospitals, police departments and pharmacies have drop off locations in the community. "Destruction kits" that make controlled drugs ineffective are also available.

Dr. Gregory B. Auffenberg an Assistant Professor of Urology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

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