The Pros and Cons of Using Painkillers to Treat Neuropathic Pain
There is no doubt that opiates will reduce almost most any kind of pain, including neuropathic pain. However, drugs like oxycodone, oxycontin and morphine carry risks that make some patients reluctant to use them and some doctors reluctant to prescribe them.
In general, opiates are considered a second or third-line treatment for neuropathic pain. Sometimes doctors will issue a short-term prescription for opiates in conjunction with first-line treatments since drugs like tricyclics, SNRIs and anticonvulsants can take several days to become effective. In cases where first-line treatments are ineffective, scheduled long-acting opioids like fentanyl patches or extended-release oxycodone are preferred over shorter acting agents [source: Jeffries]. This is because with any chronic pain, it is best to stay on top of the pain rather than to try and tough it out and only take medication when the pain gets really bad.
Side effects of opiates include drowsiness, constipation, nausea and, with elderly patients, an increased risk of falls or cognitive problems. Some studies have shown the risk of misuse or addiction to be as high as 50 percent [source: Jeffries]. Opiate alternatives such as methadone and tramadol have also been shown to work in treating neuropathic pain; both are thought to carry a lower risk of dependence than traditional opioids.
If opiates don't work for you, or if you're dubious about using addictive medication long-term, there are also alternative therapies to consider. We talk about acupuncture and other alternative treatments next.