Can Opioids Be Used For Pain, Migraines Or Arthritis?

Last Updated: June 4, 2020

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Pain is exceptionally common in the general population and can be caused by a variety of factors. CDC reports a prevalence of chronic pain, which refers to pain symptoms that last for a longer period of time, to be as high as 40%. Opioid use is advised for pain that fall between the range of moderate to severe, but only for short periods of time. A pain management plan for this class of medication can form part of an acute condition where the pain is a symptom, or rather a case where the person experiences such issues chronically. Learn what are opioids used for, and can they be prescribed for any other conditions like depression, migraines, arthritis, or  fibromyalgia pain?

Using Opioids For Depression

While opioid painkillers are most often used in cases where a person suffers from a condition that causes pain symptoms, there are some incidences where a physician may provide a person with opioids for depression and anxiety. The reason behind such prescriptions is mostly due to the fact that depression might sometimes be linked to endorphin deficiencies, as well as a state of endopharmacological withdrawal. But these treatment cases were rather a medical experiment, than a widespread practice.
One issue that needs to be mentioned here is that by looking at opioid epidemic facts, the use of these drugs for depression is a big concern. Individuals who are not using opioids for pain, but rather for treating depression symptoms, may be more likely to develop problems like addiction.

Using Opioids For Migraines

Various pharmaceutical drugs have been suggested for use in the treatment of migraines. When it comes to looking at what are opioids used to treat, migraines are often upon such lists. Studies have also found that this medication is common among prescription drugs reached out to patients presenting symptoms of a migraine in emergency departments. One study describes that frequent use of this medication in the treatment of migraines is a concern, as there are more effective strategies with less addictive potential.

having migraine and headache
When these medicines are provided to a person with another drug, signs of opioid withdrawal and even the abuse of these drugs become an especially concerning factor to account for.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain Management With Opioids

There are cases where a physician may consider the benefits of opioids possibly appropriate for a person who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis pain. This was often the case when other treatment protocols tried in the person has not yielded effective results.

Use Of Opioids For Neuropathic Pain

Due to the specific way that these drugs work, there are cases where medical uses of opioids may include an indication to help treat neuropathic pain in the patient. It is important to consider several factors in this particular case.

Use Of Opioids For Anxiety

Opioid versus opiate is a comparison that is vital to understand when looking at the use of such drugs in people with anxiety symptoms. The idea behind the use of drugs for anxiety is similar to depression, and also exists mostly as an experimental method of treatment, which is not approved by the medical society.

older black woman has anxiety
It is important to consult with a doctor about how long opioids stay in the user’s system, and how they should be taken. In case of the specific prescription, follow the instructions provided.

Relationship Between Opioids And Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is a very common concern among the general public. When it comes to looking at why are these drugs prescribed, chronic pain is often not listed, as the drugs are generally advised for acute pain. Some doctors, however, may provide patients with an opioids chronic back pain treatment. Chronic pain opioids will also need to be closely monitored.

Use Of Opioids For Fibromyalgia Pain

Fibromyalgia opioids would be another possible reason for this type of prescription. In such cases, individuals do need to be careful as well. This would fall within the list of opioids for chronic pain – and the drugs may be used for an extended period of time. An opioid equivalency table may be used by the doctor if the patient feels no relief form a medication prescription.
When side-effects do develop due to the use of these drugs, additional treatments might become necessary. This might include opioids constipation treatment, for example.

Take Opioids With Cautiousness

A recent wave related to overdose deaths from this drug were observed in 2013, and the statistics continue to grow. In less than a decade, more than 399,000 individuals in the United States died due to an overdose of either illicit or a prescription version of the drug. The addiction potential of them, with high overdose risks can lead to death. The high rates of overdose deaths led to opioid manufacturers lawsuits because some of them tried to hide the level of risk of their product.

Understanding the relationship between opioids and pain is important. These drugs are primarily used as pain medication, but can sometimes be provided for off-label purposes as well, but these cases can not always be considered as safe.


Page Sources

  1. Irwin Lucki, Opioids, at Very Low Doses, May Provide a New Way to Treat Resistant Depression, https://www.bbrfoundation.org/content/opioids-very-low-doses-may-provide-new-way-treat-resistant-depression
  2. James Dahlhamer, Jacqueline Lucas, Carla Zelaya, Richard Nahin, Sean Mackey, Lynn DeBar, Robert Kerns, Michael Von Korff, Linda Porter, Charles Helmick, Prevalence of Chronic Pain and High-Impact Chronic Pain Among Adults — United States, 2016, https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6736a2.htm
  3. Haley Dodson, Jay Bhula, Sven Eriksson, Khoa Nguyen, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5990028/

Published on: September 17th, 2019

Updated on: June 4th, 2020

About Author

Peter J. Grinspoon, MD

Dr. Peter Grinspoon is an experienced physician with long-term clinical practice experience. As a former analgesic addict, Dr. Grinspoon knows precisely how important it is to provide patients with effective treatment and support. Medical writing for him is the way to communicate with people and inform them about their health.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.

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