Taking Opioids for Pain? Speak up. Ask the Hard Questions.
Jun 21, 2017 - 12:04:40 PM

( - Opioids often are the go-to pain killer for everything from back aches and injuries to post-surgical pain, as evidenced by the more than 300 million prescriptions written each year. While they can be effective for moderate to severe short-term pain, opioids are not without risk. Because they have significant side effects, including an increased risk of addiction and overdose, the American Society of Anesthesiologists suggests those who take opioids ask some tough questions – including if it is time to consider other options.

Kathleen Callahan understands the dilemma. She suffers from a chronic condition that causes painful cysts that required multiple surgeries resulting in post-surgical and chronic pain for which she took opioids for years. Despite being on a high dose of opioids, Kathleen still had chronic pain. So she turned to Anita Gupta, D.O., Pharm.D., a physician anesthesiologist who specializes in pain medicine, to find an alternative.

“Opioids are a valuable tool for recovery and acute pain but when I was on them long-term, I couldn’t function and I wasn’t enjoying life. I couldn’t be involved in my children’s lives and my work was suffering,” said Kathleen, a mother of two who works in finance. “Dr. Gupta said she could help me manage my pain so my life was livable. With her help, I weaned off all the medication except for the occasional ibuprofen for bad days. Now I can exercise again. I can go to the gym. I can go out with my friends and enjoy myself. I go to my kids’ baseball games, school plays and other activities.”

“Kathleen and I had some difficult discussions. I didn’t think the medications were right for her anymore and I was truthful with her,” said Dr. Gupta. “She asked some hard questions and having these conversations really developed trust between us so I could help her move forward and cope with her pain. Since she’s been opioid-free she’s vibrant, energetic and successful in her career. She has her life back.”

If you are taking opioids or your physician has prescribed them, the American Society of Anesthesiologists suggests asking yourself (and your physician) some tough questions:

It’s important to talk to your physician if you have any of these concerns or others. For example, ask about obtaining naloxone, a drug that can reverse an overdose if injected quickly enough. If you take opioids when you don’t have pain or use more than directed, you may develop a dependence or addiction.   

“These are the difficult questions that no one wants to discuss, but physicians and patients need to talk about them so the patient can get better,” said Dr. Gupta. “If they’re prescribed opioids, patients need to ask how long they’re going to be on them as well as additional options for treating pain. With all the tools we have there is a lot more patients can do for their pain with their physicians’ help.”

“My entire outlook on pain management has changed,” says Kathleen. “If I didn’t have a physician anesthesiologist on my medical team I believe right now I would be very overweight, inactive, not part of my children’s lives and clinically depressed. When you have a physician like Dr. Gupta who you trust and who shows you there’s another way, it’s just amazing. It’s night and day. I’m even starting to run in marathons.”

For more information download ASA’s Asking the Hard Questions About Opioids. To learn more about the critical role physician anesthesiologists play before, during and after surgery, visit


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