What Is the Opioid-Sparing Effect?

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With opioid misuse and overdose rates at high levels, many doctors want to find alternative treatments to opioids for pain. Medical professionals research multiple ways to reduce opioid use, including the opioid-sparing effect. Discover how the opioid-sparing effect works and how doctors use it to improve pain treatment.

The Opioid Crisis: An Overview

During the late 1990s, doctors began prescribing opioid painkillers at a high rate. They believed that opioids did not have a major risk of addiction. These practices led to widespread opioid misuse.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 21 to 29 percent of patients who receive opioid prescriptions for pain misuse them. Out of those patients, eight to 12 percent develop an opioid addiction. Due to opioids’ high risk of addiction, it’s critical for doctors to find alternative options for pain relief. The opioid-sparing effect helps these efforts.

What Is Opioid Sparing?

Under the opioid-sparing effect, combining opioids with an opioid-sparing medication lets a patient take a lower amount of opioids. Opioid-sparing drugs allow the patient to feel a similar level of pain relief while taking fewer opioids. Addressing pain with multiple pain relief methods helps doctors and patients minimize side effects and addiction.

Drugs Tested for the Opioid-Sparing Effect

Medical professionals test a variety of pain relief treatments for their usefulness in opioid sparing. These options include:

  • Regional treatments: During surgeries, doctors can use regional treatments that involve a needle or catheter containing a local anesthetic.
  • Non-opioid pain medications: Medications like acetaminophen and NSAIDs can work together with opioids to relieve pain while reducing side effects.
  • Anticonvulsant medicines: Doctors typically prescribe medications like gabapentin for seizures, but they can also treat nerve pain.
  • Glucocorticoids: As a type of corticosteroid, glucocorticoids relieve inflammation to reduce pain.
  • Medical marijuana: Some research suggests that medical cannabis could work as an opioid-sparing medicine, but more data is needed before it becomes common practice.

Potential Benefits of Opioid Sparing

As opioid sparing becomes more widespread in the medical field, it could provide these benefits and more:

  • Reduced addiction rates: By prescribing lower amounts of opioids, doctors can reduce the risk of patients developing addictions.
  • Fewer side effects: Opioid sparing can reduce the side effects of opioids and the accompanying pain reliever thanks to smaller amounts of each.
  • Better pain relief: A treatment involving opioid sparing addresses multiple pathways for pain relief, potentially leading to better results.
  • Lower impact of the opioid crisis: By providing the above benefits, the opioid-sparing effect reduces the negative impact of the opioid crisis. It helps doctors find ways to provide pain relief without increasing opioid risks.

Find Out More About Opioid Addiction and Treatment

At BAART Programs, we help patients on the road to recovery and educate the public about opioid addiction. Learn more about opioid addiction-related topics by reading our blog. If you need treatment for opioid addiction, contact our staff today.

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