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The Price Tag of Chronic Pain

Chronic pain comes at a cost -- from lost wages to social stigma. You don't have to pay the price.

Are Health Risks the Price of Pain Relief?

Adding insult to injury, some pain medicines can pose health risks as well. The Cox-2 inhibitors Vioxx and Bextra are no longer available, removed from the shelves because of side effects. And we've all heard the stories about celebrities developing an addiction to narcotic painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin.

Even a class of common over-the-counter painkillers -- NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like aspirin, Advil, Aleve, and Motrin -- can pose a risk of gastrointestinal bleeding.

"The costs of treating complications from NSAIDs are more than $2 billion a year," says Cohen. "That's almost the same amount that's spent on these drugs."

It can leave someone in pain stuck in the middle. They want relief from their pain, but they're worried the treatment will be worse than the cure.

However, Cowan says that fears of addiction to narcotic painkillers are overstated. "People think that if you take a dose of OxyContin, you become a lifelong addict," says Cowan. "That's not true." She says that usually, when taken as prescribed, people will not have a problem.

Edwards adds that there's confusion between dependence on a drug and addiction to it.

"If you take any drug regularly, your body will get used to it," he says. "That's called dependence and it's very different from addiction. I'm an asthmatic and I'm dependent on my inhaler. Without it I'm on the floor gasping. But that does not mean I'm addicted to it."

Dependence can cause some symptoms of withdrawal when you stop taking the medicine. Your pain might worsen temporarily. But Edwards says there are ways of lessening these side effects if you're prepared for them.

Cashing In on Unconventional Chronic Pain Relief

Frustration has caused many people to seek out other ways of treating their pain. These include approaches like acupuncture, massage, biofeedback, focused relaxation, meditation, and other techniques. Many people find that they help.

"The statistics are staggering," says Bonakdar. "One survey of people with low back pain showed that 68% rated acupuncture and massage as 'very helpful.' Only 27% said that about seeing their doctor."

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