The nation has finally seen fit to declare a national emergency over the use of prescription opioid pain relievers.
However, there are other classes of medication that are also very deadly, are also being abused, and may also need to be better controlled. These are over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications. Although most of us think it’s safe to pop one of these pills whenever we have a headache, the truth is that according to a new study many people pop two or three, and, as a result, they can experience some serious health harms.
Because of the way it’s sold and the frequency that we use it, most of us think ibuprofen is a safe drug. However, ibuprofen and many other drugs in the class of NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) come with some serious risks. Stomach bleeding and heart problems are the two most serious risks commonly associated with these drugs.
And when we say “commonly,” we’re not exaggerating. Every year, an estimated 76,000 Americans go to to the hospital for ibuprofen-related complications. And about 7600 of them die. That is still much less than the 35,000 or so a year that die due to opioid painkillers, but it’s a serious enough number that we need to understand why this happens.
And now a new study on people’s habitual use of ibuprofen and other NSAIDs gives us critical insight.
Studying Personal Dosage
When people overdose on a medication, it’s because of a decision they make. In the case of accidental overdose, they are usually under the impression that they’re taking a safe dose of medication.
To find out why people make these decisions, researchers created an online journal for ibuprofen users. More than 1300 users took to the journal to chart their daily usage.
Looking at the usage rates, researchers found that all the participants took ibuprofen at least once during the week, and 16% of users took it every day. The journal also showed that 11% of users took too much ibuprofen, exceeding the requested dosage on 9% of use days.
People using ibuprofen for chronic pain management were most likely to overuse the medication. Men were also more likely to overuse ibuprofen, especially if they had the attitude that they should determine their own dosage. People who smoked and those who didn’t know the maximum dosage were also more likely to overuse the medication.
This study focused on the overuse of ibuprofen, but acetaminophen is also commonly overused, creating serious health risks. The main risk associated with acetaminophen is liver damage. Acetaminophen may be associated with as many as 100,000 emergency room visits a year. Acetaminophen accounts for about 50% of all acute liver failures from overdose, and about 20% of all people needing liver transplants suffered damage due to acetaminophen.
In addition, acetaminophen is associated with serious skin disorders.
Drug-Free Treatment for Chronic Pain
If you have chronic pain, you need a better way to manage that pain than OTC medication. Trying to manage your pain this way puts you at risk for dangerous drug side effects. If you are suffering from chronic pain conditions such as TMJ or migraine, we offer drug-free treatment options.
We can help control pain from these conditions by addressing their root cause: the muscles and nerves that generate them.