Patient Information Resources

Centre for Orthopaedics
Suite 10-33/34/35 Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre
38 Irrawaddy Road
Singapore, 329563, Singapore
Ph: (65) 6684 5828
Fax: (65) 6684 5829

Child Orthopedics
Pain Management
Spine - Cervical
Spine - General
Spine - Lumbar
Spine - Thoracic

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I just came back from the doctor's for a back injury I got at work. I have a prescription for painkillers that is a morphine-derivative. Should I really take this? I thought these drugs were dangerous.

Morphine-like painkillers are referred to as opioid analgesics. Use of these drugs has been on the rise since the early 1980s. It used to be that opioids were reserved for chronic pain patients. Terminal cancer patients were the main users.

But as the drugs have improved with fewer side effects, their use has also expanded. Doctors are more likely now to presribe opioids for patients with pain from an acute injury such as yourself. The idea is to gain pain control early and prevent a chronic pain-spasm cycle from occurring.

But there's some new evidence that the use of opioids to treat painful, acute symptoms may not be the best idea in the long-run. Over time, it appears that patients who take opioids early (within the first 15 days of injury), are more likely to have problems later.

They are six times more likely to still be taking opioids much later. They are three times more likely to have back surgery. And the number of days with disability off work is much longer for patients who took early opioids.

Limited use of opioids may be appropriate for your situation. Some experts still advise the safest medication for the pain and disabling symptoms from an acute injury is still acetaminophen (Tylenol). Nonsteroidal antiinflammatories are also a good option.

If you have any doubts or concerns, give your doctor's office a call. The nurse is usually able to answer these kinds of questions.


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