Opioid Drugs: Summary of Recommendations
Don't take an opioid painkiller to treat chronic pain until you have tried other, less risky, pain relievers—such as acetaminophen, or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, and generic) or naproxen (Aleve and generic).
Some kinds of chronic or periodic pain in particular—such as nerve pain, migraines, or fibromyalgia—are best treated with other types of drugs, not opioids. Talk with your doctor about non-drug measures, too. Studies show they can ease chronic pain, either alone or in combination with drugs. These include cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise, spinal manipulation, and physical rehab programs.
The weight of medical evidence indicates that while opioids are highly effective—and usually the drugs of choice—in relieving acute severe pain, they are only moderately effective in treating long-term chronic pain, and their effectiveness can diminish over time.
In addition, while the long-term use of opioids has not been well studied, it has been linked to a decrease in sex hormones leading to both a loss of interest in sex and impaired sexual function; a decline in immune function; and an increase in the body's sensitivity to pain.
Opioids can also be addictive and are prone to abuse and misuse. They are rarely addictive if you genuinely need one to control pain, however. If other options fail, your doctor may consider an opioid since controlling pain is always a medical priority.
Taking effectiveness, safety, side effects, dosing flexibility, convenience, and cost into account, we have chosen the following opioid as a Best Buys for people with moderate to severe chronic pain when other pain relievers fail to bring adequate relief:
- Generic morphine extended release
This medicine has a long track record and provides good value. It ranges widely in monthly cost, depending on dosing regimen. But most low-dose regimens will run you $101 or less per month.
High doses of this medicine can be quite expensive. If you need to take a high dose, we advise speaking with your doctor or pharmacist about which opioid has the lowest cost under your insurance plan. If you have to pay out-of-pocket, take care to avoid the high-cost versions of our Best Buy medicine, if possible.