Chronic pain is an epidemic in the United States, affecting over 50 million Americans according to the American Academy of Pain Management. Acute pain, caused by accidents or surgery, affects an additional 25 million Americans. Living with pain can negatively affect a person’s quality of life by impacting their job performance, exercise, social activities and sleep patterns. There are many types of prescription medications that can treat pain, so finding the right one may take time.
Narcotics, also called opioids because they are derived from substances found in opium, are commonly prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. These medications bind to receptors on the nerve cells blocking the pain signals from being sent to the brain. In addition to providing pain relief, narcotics induce sedation and can cause side effects such as constipation, dry mouth, nausea and vomiting. When not taken as directed by the prescription, narcotics can induce physical dependence and addiction, according to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
There are different classifications of narcotic medications. Natural opiates are those medications, including morphine and codeine, that are made from the substances found in the opium poppy. Semi-synthetic narcotics, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and desomorphine, are partially man-made in a laboratory using natural substances. Synthetic opiates, including fentanyl and methadone, are chemical substances created in a laboratory.
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also known as NSAIDs, are medications that are commonly used to treat pain usually accompanied with inflammation. This class of drugs includes naproxen and Cox-2 inhibitors such as celecoxib. Although the doctors at the Mayo Clinic report that these medications can cause stomach pain, intestinal bleeding, heart problems and kidney failure, they are often used to treat arthritis pain.
Although tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline, imaprimine and clomipramine are commonly prescribed to treat depression, they also have an analgesic effect. A study published in "Pain Research and Management" reports that TCAs are effective in treating moderate neuropathic pain caused by diabetic neuropathy, postherpetic neuralgia, tension headaches, migraines and fibromyalgia. Side effects of TCAs include sedation, constipation and dry mouth.
Anticonvulsants are a class of medications used to treat seizure disorders such as epilepsy. Because these medications reduce the excitability of the nerves, they are also effective in treating neuropathic pain (pain caused by nerve damage), chronic headaches and pain caused by spinal cord injuries. Gabapentin, carbamazepine, lamotrigine and topiramate are all anticonvulsant medications. The most common side effects of these drugs include dizziness, drowsiness and confusion, as reported by "Pain Research and Management."