A timely reminder about opioids and pain

According to the Australian Atlas of Healthcare Variation, opioid prescription rates are highest in some regional areas. NPS MedicineWise is sharing videos of people’s experience living with chronic pain and reminding people who are taking opioids for chronic pain, including those in regional areas, that they may find their pain levels and quality of life actually improve when opioids are reduced or stopped.

“People don’t understand what it is like living with pain 24/7 for 14 years,” says Leah Dwyer, 57 year-old mother from Sydney.

“Looking back, there are some things I would have done differently. I would have used fewer opioid medicines and upped non-medicine treatment.”

“I wish I had known of the side effects of opioid medicines, how my body would tolerate them and demand more, and that my pain would possibly increase on an opioid. When I realised that I was actually getting more pain on the drug than off the drug, it was such a huge moment,” she says.

Opioids are a class of medicines taken to help reduce pain. They work on the central nervous system to slow down nerve signals between the brain and the body. This can reduce feelings of pain, but opioids can also produce adverse effects, ranging from constipation to dangerous slowing down of a person’s breathing.

Dr Caroline West, GP and medical advisor at NPS MedicineWise, says that we need to change our focus from ‘pain cure’ to ‘pain management’ for chronic non-cancer pain.

“Managing chronic pain is complicated. Sadly opioids are not the magic bullet people hope for. In fact, in long term pain that is non cancer related, opioids could be actually making your pain and quality of life worse.”

“It is all about setting goals to improve things that are important to you, and focusing less on removing the pain. Can you do the things you love and improve your social, emotional and mental health? What is important to you?”

“A pain management plan involves you working together with your doctor and maybe also specialists and allied-health professionals like a physiotherapist.”

“Your doctor can help create a plan with you which may include reducing or stopping opioids if they are not working for you. she says.

The NPS MedicineWise videos about lived experience with chronic pain include stories from a range of people, young and old, men and women, indigenous and non-indigenous. They all share their stories living with chronic non-cancer pain, what they wish they had known at the start of their journey and how they are faring today.

“The person that helped me taper was my local pharmacist,” says Leah Dwyer.

“It took me about 12 weeks to go from 15 pills a day to zero. I experienced a lot of sweating, restlessness, my tremor and pain increased. It was hard.”

“I still have pain today but I have learnt how to manage my pain and do the things I love to do. Today I still take paracetamol. Other things that have been good for me were physiotherapy, remedial massage, psychological treatments and education,” she says.

For more information on opioids and chronic non-cancer pain, see the NPS MedicineWise website.


Media contact

Matthew Harris and Bernadettte Withers, NPS MedicineWise: 0419 618 365 or [email protected]