taking control and managing chronic pain naturally

with so much in the news today about the prescription opioid pain management crisis in this country, it is good to understand what the alternative options are.

But first, we need to understand how we got to this point. The pharmaceutical choice for chronic pain management starts with over the counter NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, which can reduce inflammation and the hormone-like substances that cause the pain – prostaglandins. Constant use of these NSAIDs can cause an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes or stomach ulcers and can cause kidney issues. The effectiveness of pain reduction can lessen over time. The next choice is to go to your MD to ask for prescription pain medication.

The prescription drugs, such as opioids, the narcotic pain medications used for acute and potentially short-term pain reduction include such drugs as morphine, Fentanyl, Oxycodone and Codeine.

Fentanyl, which is 75 x stronger than morphine, causes 30,000 – 50,000 preventable deaths each year in the US alone, and that is due to a 40% increased risk of heart attack and stroke and 4,000 – 16,500 deaths annually from bleeding ulcers. Overdosing is causing many thousands of unnecessary deaths annually, and the Opioid “epidemic” is growing due to the constant and increasing demand for chronic pain reduction.

A drug “habit” sounds like a street drug addiction, and the disaster is made that much more devastating due to the manner in which these destructive habits are formed. An innocent assumption that a prescription from your doctor could not hurt you, and a trust that when you pop a pill and the pain seems to go away that it is not without some type of cost. Strong pain management drugs are prescribed on a regular basis and covered by health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, with long term renewals. But that is not the cost to worry about in the long run. Prescription opioid pain medication is addictive and long after an injury has healed and the pain is gone, the body’s need to replenish the drug has not.

What happens in the body when the prescription drugs are taken for pain? The opioids react with opioid receptors in the brain, to prevent the brain sensing the pain. The drugs also slow down the heart rate and drop blood pressure, slow the breathing rate and induce a sense of relaxation. This is the reaction to a drug classified as a Schedule II controlled substance. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it is estimated that at least 54 million Americans have misused these prescription drugs at some point in their lives.

The Washington Post recently published a report about how more than 600 people in the medical field, including 165 medical doctors and professionals, were charged with falsifying prescriptions, many of them opioids. The report says that this type of behavior is contributing to the drug dependency epidemic as never before seen in the US. The report went on to detail how the drug companies offer incentives to doctors to prescribe their drugs, which has led to unnecessary prescriptions being written, which in turn can lead to addictions.

Fentanyl was first synthesized in 1959 and later marketed as an intravenous analgesic drug. Other formulations were developed to provide opioid pain management, including transdermal patch, flavored lollipops, sublingual/effervescent tablets, and nasal sprays.

The withdrawal from these drugs is not as easy as it sounds, and millions of people now battle with an addiction because of this. It often starts with the need for more each time to get the earlier results, then the need for more frequent doses to achieve the same relief. If the dosage is reduced or stopped, the withdrawal will feel similar to a bad case of the flu. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, shaking, sweating, muscle aches and running nose is just the tip of the iceberg on the journey to be free of these drugs. The emotional troubles come with strong cravings for the drug, just to make the symptoms go away. These symptoms can come crashing into the central nervous system about 12 hours after the last dose of the drug. After being suppressed by the drug, the body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and all the receptors of pain go into hyperactivity.

The ideal way to use these powerful drugs safely, is to stop after taking opioids for a maximum of two weeks. Run the course of your prescription and do not refill. Make sure to check with your doctor when you can stop your medication, and apply your own judgement. It is your body, and your life.

If you have taken these drugs for a longer period of time, you may experience some of the withdrawal symptoms mentioned above. You will need to taper off the dosage gently, so that your tolerance is reduced.

The important question that everyone has to ask themselves is whether you are still taking the medication for the original pain or has the need to take the drug taken over where the pain left off? There are so many other ways to manage pain, which are non-habit forming, and much safer on your body. Consider:

  • CBD – Industrial Hemp oil, as a way to manage pain. Studies have shown a great deal of positive results in managing pain by using CBD hemp oil. Both topical and as oil or softgel to be taken internally.
  • ACUPUNCTURE – this alternative treatment is provided by a licensed professional and has shown to be a powerful and evidence-based method of managing pain and avoiding opioids. It can also be used to help overcome addiction, or to help you wean off opioid pain medication. About a decade ago, the military and Veteran Affairs began to promote alternative approaches for pain treatments, including acupuncture.
  • TURMERIC – research has shown that the curcumin in turmeric acts in a similar manner as opioid painkillers, to turn off the pain receptors, without the side effects.
  • ESSENTIAL OILS – such as Peppermint, Lavender, Clove, Juniper, Thyme, Wintergreen, Rosemary, Chamomile and Frankincense all can be used topically to reduce pain. Use with a carrier oil, such as jojoba or almond oil, and dilute as needed.
  • ARNICA – the homeopathic remedy that comes from the perennial plant Arnica Montana – in pill form and in topical creams and gels. (Do not use topicals on broken skin).
  • Other HOMEOPATHIC REMEDIES – Ledum, Rhus Tox, Hypericum, Bryonia, to name a few. Homeopathic remedies vary from situation and types of pain and from person to person, so make sure to consult with a practitioner to find the correct remedy for your needs.
  • YOGA, MEDITATION, VISUAL IMAGERY, MASSAGE  and PHYSICAL EXERCISE all help to get relief from pain. All release endorphins and change the way the mind and body process the pain messages. Seek professional classes or practitioners to add to your pain management regime.

If you are in acute pain, seek alternative methods to manage your health first, and if offered pain medication, always find out what it is, what is in the medication and for how long it is safe to use. When we are in pain, we will do whatever we can to make it stop, however, we need to be aware that it should be managed rather than either endured and suffered through, or completed numbed.

Sally Warren, PhD
Board Certified Naturopath
Metro Integrative

Reference: Washington PostDEANCBIHealthLine

additional comments by

Karen Wright, CNS, CDN
Metro Integrative

no one wants to be in pain. it can interrupt all of our daily activities and prevent a good night’s sleep. the pharmaceutical industry has solved this problem by creating a class of drugs known as opioids.

Although these drugs reduce pain they are addictive and can cause nutrient deficiencies. Nutrient deficiencies can exacerbate the problem that the opioids were originally trying to solve and cause other health issues. Certain nutrients can get depleted when taking this class of drug.

The following nutrients can be depleted by opioids:

  • Folic acid
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Iron
  • Potassium
  • Glutathione
  • Selenium

For some people it does not take long time to become addicted. It is a hard addiction to overcome because residues of the drug end up in fatty tissue. These can stay tucked away in the tissue for years. When fat is used as a source of energy this residue can be released into the bloodstream and can trigger a drug craving.

As with other addictions like street drugs and alcohol it is best to withdraw with a qualified professional and not try to detoxify on your own. Abrupt withdrawal can lead to increased pain and other unpleasant discomforts.

Nutrition should be a part of the program that you choose. The below nutritionals are suggested to help support the body during the withdrawal process:

  • Dark leafy greens
  • Fermented foods
  • Wild caught fish
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Avocados
  • Berries
  • Hydration

It is also suggested that the following supplements be considered:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Multi-mineral
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • B complex
  • N-Acetyl-Cysteine
  • N-Acetyl-L-Carnitine
  • Theanine
  • 5-HTP
  • SAM-e

As well as these herbs:

  • Kava
  • Passion Flower
  • Ashwagandha
  • Bacopa


This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition. The information in this article is for educational purposes only.