When painkillers kill more than your pain

January 11, 2011
Volume 08    |   Issue 02

You may think that pain is just uncomfortable and manageable with medications. But if you keep taking certain painkillers, they may not kill just your pain. They may kill you as well. It all depends on which drugs you use and for how long.

The three most popular types of painkillers are NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like aspirin, COX inhibitors (Coxibs) like Celebrex, and opioids. Opioids are powerful painkillers sold under the names OxyContin, Demerol, Percodan, Vicodin, and Lomotil (among others).

You probably already know about some of the side effects of NSAIDs and COX inhibitors. I’ve told you about them in the past. But now a study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston says taking opioids could cause more than just a few annoying side effects. They could cause severe side effects — or worse. They could kill you.

In this study, the researchers followed older adults who regularly took one of these painkillers. They found that opioids had more serious side effects — including death — than the other painkillers.

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What’s more disturbing to me is that we have less information on opioids than on other painkillers. Their side effects may be even more serious than we know.

The issue gets more complicated because contrary to popular belief, different opioids have different risks. Researchers have to evaluate each one separately.

Then there’s the problem of nutrient depletion. All drugs have the potential to rob you of essential nutrients that can lead to more health problems.

The developers of painkillers designed them for short-term use. When used correctly, they cause few problems (except to sensitive people). But if you’re taking painkillers for months or longer — or any prescription or over-the-counter drugs, for that matter — make sure they’re not contributing to other problems.

You can do this by getting a copy of Dr. Hyla Cass’s excellent reference book, Supplement Your Prescription (Basic Health, 2007). In it you can look up every medication you’re taking and its side effects. Pay particular attention to the nutrients these medications deplete. Then look for safe natural alternatives.

For example, painkillers often work by reducing inflammation. So does curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric root. Unlike aspirin and many other anti-inflammatory drugs, it has no side effects. Turmeric is one of several safe anti-inflammatory ingredients in Reduloxin. And this is a stronger formula than those found in health food stores. Give it a try before you take drugs for months on end. It’s safer and could be just as effective.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,


"The Comparative Safety of Opioids for Nonmalignant Pain in Older Adults," Daniel H. Solomon, MD, MPH; Jeremy A. Rassen, ScD; Robert J. Glynn, PhD, ScD; Katie Garneau, BA; Raisa Levin, MSc; Joy Lee, BA; Sebastian Schneeweiss, MD, ScD

Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(22):1979-1986. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2010.450

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