Opioids are very powerful and very important medicines, which are good for people who have sudden, short-term (“acute”) pain. Examples of acute pain include pain from serious injuries (broken bones, ruptured ligaments), severe dental infections, and pain from recent surgery. Opioids are usually only needed for 3-5 days after this kind of pain starts, and then people should be transitioned to other types of pain medicine, such as NSAIDS. People who have these types of injuries are also likely to need physical therapy as part of their recovery, in order to avoid the kind of chronic pain that should not be treated with opioids
The other kind of pain that should be treated with opioids is cancer pain, especially in patients with a terminal diagnosis. Sometimes cancer patients avoid opioids out of concern for addiction, or because they don’t see themselves as the type of person who needs pain medicine. However, cancer pain can make it difficult to rest, to cope with the side effects of treatment, and perhaps most importantly, to enjoy time with loved ones. While cancer pain should still be treated with the whole range of therapies for pain, opioids are an important part of the toolkit and should not be avoided simply due to stigma.