For severe episodes of low back pain or neck pain, narcotic pain medications (also referred to as opioids) may be prescribed. Clearly, narcotic agents are strong and potentially addictive forms of medication and should only be administered by a physician.
All narcotic agents have a dissociative effect that helps patients manage pain. It does not actually deaden the pain, but works to dissociate patients from the pain. Commonly used narcotics, listed in ascending order of potency (strength) include:
- Codeine (e.g. Tylenol #3)
- Hydrocodone (e.g. Vicodin)
- Oxycodone (e.g. Percocet, Oxycontin)
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In general, narcotic medications can be highly effective in treating back pain for short periods of time (less than two weeks). After the initial two weeks, the body rapidly builds a natural tolerance to narcotic medications and they lose their effectiveness. While some physicians believe that narcotics can be used long-term at low doses to treat chronic pain, narcotics are most commonly used to treat severe acute (short-term) low back pain or post-operative pain.