Prolonged use of painkillers can cause irreversible damage to the liver and might even lead to death, medical experts have warned.
They noted that depending on painkillers to manage chronic pain could damage vital organs of the body, especially the liver if taken over a long period.
The physicians explained that the reason why over-reliance on painkillers could cause such massive damage to the liver and kidneys was because they reduce the production of prostaglandins, which they said are chemicals that help to protect these organs.
According to them, painkillers can lead to severe health complications by destroying the body’s natural defense mechanisms.
Speaking exclusively with newsmen, a pharmacist and a public health physician, said people should be aware of the potential risks and consult with a doctor before taking any medication.
The Vice Chairman of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, Ogun State Branch, Olumide Obube said the development of pain medication dependence can be influenced by factors such as prolonged use, high doses, a history of substance abuse, psychological factors, genetic predisposition, inadequate pain management strategies
The pharmacist stressed the importance of individuals using pain medications under proper medical guidance to minimise the risk of dependence.
Obube, who is a member of the Ogun State Drug Control Committee, noted that pain medication dependence can lead to various risks and consequences, including physical health issues, tolerance, and increased dosages, psychological impact, withdrawal symptoms, accidental overdose, and societal consequences, among others.
While noting that pain medication dependence can contribute to anxiety, depression, and impaired cognitive function, the expert maintained that abrupt cessation can lead to withdrawal symptoms, including nausea, anxiety, insomnia, and muscle pain.
He added, “For individuals using pain medications to follow prescribed guidelines and communicate openly with healthcare providers to minimise these risks.
“When you see someone needing higher doses over time to achieve the same pain relief, it is a sign of pain medication dependence.
“They will also be experiencing physical and psychological symptoms when not taking the medication, such as nausea, sweating, anxiety, or irritability.
“They are also spending a significant amount of time thinking about, obtaining, or using the medication. They have difficulty in controlling or cutting down on medication use, despite awareness of its negative effects.
“If someone is exhibiting these signs, it’s essential to seek professional help for a proper assessment and intervention.”
On how pain medication dependence can be prevented, the pharmacist said people should avoid long-term use and adhere strictly to prescribed dosages by avoiding self-adjusting medication amounts.
“Attend regular follow-up appointments with healthcare providers to assess the effectiveness of the medication and discuss any concerns.
“Explore non-pharmacological pain management options, such as physical therapy, acupuncture, or mindfulness techniques.
“Understand the risks associated with pain medications, including the potential for dependence, and stay informed about the prescribed medication.
“It is crucial for individuals struggling with pain medication dependence to seek professional help. Healthcare providers can assess the specific situation and recommend a tailored treatment plan based on the individual’s needs and circumstances,” he concluded.
On his part, a public health physician at Federal Medical Centre, Idi-Aba, Abeokuta, Dr. David Ogunsanya, said depending on painkillers can cause stomach bleeding because they reduce the production of another substance, called mucus, which helps to protect the stomach lining.
The physician added that the risk of these problems increases the longer someone takes pain medications and at higher doses.
According to him, it is important for people to be aware of these risks and to discuss them.
Ogunsanya cautioned against self-medicating and emphasized the importance of seeking medical help if experiencing pain.
While there are risks associated with painkillers, the health expert maintains that they can still be useful when used as prescribed by a doctor.
“If you are struggling with pain, I would encourage you to make an appointment with your doctor and discuss all of your options, including medication, exercise, sleep, and diet.
“It is important to be an active participant in your healthcare and to work with your doctor to find the best treatment plan for you.
“There are several risks associated with overuse of painkillers, including liver damage, kidney damage, and stomach bleeding.
“Painkillers are particularly problematic, as they can cause problems even with short-term use. It is important for people to be aware of these risks and to discuss them with their doctor before taking any medication.”
A study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2018, looked at the use of painkillers in the general population.
The study followed over 1.6 million people for up to ten years and found that the use of painkillers, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and opioids, was associated with an increased risk of death from any cause.
The risk of death was highest in those who took the highest doses of painkillers and those who took them for the longest time.
The study suggested that the risks of painkillers extend beyond liver damage and can have a significant impact on overall health and mortality.
The study authors noted that more research is needed to understand the full extent of the risks associated with painkiller use.
They also stressed the importance of evaluating the risks and benefits of painkillers for each patient, as everyone is different.