At Novus Medical Detox Center, many of our patients tell us that they came to us because their lives were being ruined by highly addictive narcotic painkillers like OxyContin, Lortab, Percocet, oxycodone or even, in a few instances, methadone that was prescribed by medical doctors to treat pain.

When our patients arrive at Novus on these painkillers they normally complain of two or more of the following conditions:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Slowed reaction times
  • Decreased or no sex drive
  • Fear
  • Hopelessness
  • Anger
  • Insomnia or other sleep problems
  • Pain

Some of our patients are not addicted to the drugs, in the classic sense, but merely dependent, meaning that they experience severe withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop taking the painkiller. Let’s examine what is pain, the way it is sensed and some of the more common types.


At one time or another all of us have experienced pain. We have all touched a hot object, fell and banged our elbow or scraped our knee, gotten a headache, or ached the next day after helping someone move to a new apartment. All of the above uncomfortable sensations we call pain. Almost always, the pain will go away in hours to as much as a day or so. For some, though, their pain doesn't go away in a day but stays with them for the rest of their lives until they can find a way to deal with it. The Encarta Dictionary defines pain as: “Unpleasant physical sensation—the acutely unpleasant physical discomfort experienced by somebody who is violently struck, injured, or ill.” The International Association for the Study of Pain defines it as: “An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.”


This is not an easy answer, but most scientists believe that pain signals originate in the thalamus (either of a pair of egg-shaped masses of gray matter in the brain that relay sensory information) and are sent from there to the cerebral cortex (the headquarters for complex thoughts). It is also theorized by some scientists that the thalamus is where images, like those of injuries to the body, are stored for recall by the brain. Apparently, a neurotransmitter (a chemical that carries messages between different nerve cells or between nerve cells and muscles) stimulates a receptor (a part of an adjoining nerve cell) to send out a distress signal that something is wrong, and this is the way that our brain senses pain. Scientists have identified a type of receptor that responds to painful stimuli called a nociceptor. A nociceptor is a thin nerve fiber in the skin, muscle, and other body tissues that, when stimulated, carries pain signals to the spinal cord and brain. While normally nociceptors only respond to physical pain, they can be made more sensitive because infections or sunburns or other things that would not have necessarily caused pain will now-like patting someone on their sunburned back.


Most scientists agree that pain is used by the body to warn of a non-optimum situation or danger to the body and to signal that immediate action must be taken. For example, holding your finger on the hot plate will be very destructive if not removed quickly. Lifting too heavy a load can permanently injure the back, so your body sends out an immediate warning by making you feel pain and then you set the load down. Looking at too bright a light is painful and if you don't look away it could cause permanent damage to your optic nerve. Of course, some people will react to pain like the cat described by Mark Twain. They will never jump on a hot stove again but they also will not jump on a cold stove. We all know people who have had a relatively minor bicycle accident who will never ride a bike again. This is an example of their body’s pain mechanism actually interfering with them doing some things that might add pleasure to their lives. If the condition causing the pain is not corrected, the pain can become so severe that it takes over the person’s life.


While it is extremely frustrating to patients, medical professionals and insurance companies, there is no test that can accurately measure the intensity of pain and often no way to accurately diagnose the real cause of the pain. Of course, if the pain is due to a trauma or something shows up on a magnetic resonance image (MRI) or simple X-ray, then the cause can be located.


Pain is generally divided into two areas-acute and chronic. Acute Pain Generally acute (severe and of a short duration) pain is normally caused by disease, inflammation, or injury. It generally comes on suddenly and though it may be severe it generally will start to lessen and will eventually go away. Chronic Pain Chronic (long lasting) pain may vary in intensity but it persists over a longer period of time than acute pain. By definition, chronic pain is pain that has not been successfully treated. Our patients who come to Novus to get off painkillers prescribed by doctors are suffering from chronic pain and that is what we will discuss.


While not a complete list of the types of chronic pain suffered by Novus patients, most of them have pain derived from one of the following types: Arachnoiditis The arachnoid is the middle of the three membranes that envelop the brain and spinal cord. The suffix “-itis” means inflammation or disease. (Some confuse arachnoid with arachnids-spiders, but this is not the same thing.) Arachnoiditis is the inflammation of the membrane that surrounds and protects the nerves of the spinal cord (a thick whitish cord of nerve tissue extending from the bottom of the brain through the spinal column, which together with the brain forms the central nervous system).

The arachnoid can become inflamed in the following way:

  • Because of an irritation from chemicals such as the dye used to provide contrast to x-rays, CT or MRI scans or from steroid injections;
  • Because of an infection from bacteria or viruses;
  • Because of direct injury to the spine such as from an accident;
  • Because of complications from spinal surgery or other invasive spinal procedures.
Inflammation of the arachnoid often leads to the formation of scar tissue and adhesions which cause the spinal nerves to “stick” together and this can cause a number of symptoms such as:
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Stinging, shooting and burning pain in the lower back or legs
  • Debilitating muscle cramps, twitches, or spasms
  • Impairment in bladder, bowel, and sexual function
  • Paralysis of the lower limbs.

Back Pain

While arachnoiditis certainly is a cause of back pain, there are other causes including:

  • Sciatica—pain that spreads to the legs
  • Degenerated or ruptured discs in the spine (discs are sponge-like padding between the vertebrae (bones) in the spine that act as shock absorbers)
  • Spondylolisthesis—when one vertebra extends over another, causing pressure on nerves and therefore pain.


There are three types of chronic headaches:

  • Migraines—throbbing pain and sometimes other symptoms, such as nausea and visual disturbances, which can be triggered by stress and have led to strokes. They are more frequent in women than men.
  • Cluster—excruciating, piercing pain on one side of the head. They occur more frequently in men than women.
  • Tension—a tight band around the head.
Fibromyalgia Fibro (fiber or tissue) -myalgia (muscle pain) is a disorder that affects many more women than men. The actual pain comes not from the joints but from the connecting tissues such as the muscles, tendons and ligaments. Neuropathic Pain Neuro (nerves) -pathic (affected by disease) usually results from an injury to:
  • The nerves in the peripheral nervous system (the part of the nervous system that is outside the central nervous system and comprises the cranial nerves excepting the optic nerve, the spinal nerves, and the autonomic nervous system)
  • The nerves in the central nervous system (the part of the nervous system which in vertebrates consists of the brain and spinal cord, to which sensory impulses are transmitted and from which motor impulses pass out, and which supervises and coordinates the activity of the entire nervous system).
Neuropathic pain can occur in any part of the body and is frequently described as a hot, burning sensation. It can result from:
  • Diseases that affect nerves (such as diabetes)
  • Trauma (a physical injury or wound to the body)
  • Cancer treatment with chemotherapy drugs which can affect nerves


This is not possible to answer and depends, in large part, on the cause of the pain and the treatment which the person has received. Some people find that the pain for which they originally took the painkiller is not there when they detox. For them, this is a total win-win solution. For some others, they find that the pain is much reduced and can be satisfactorily controlled through other methods.


Many of our patients tell us that they can't continue to place themselves, their families and others at risk by driving around under the numbing influence of painkillers. They want to again experience normal relations with their spouse and have more energy and mental clarity. They have to find another solution. Next week we will take a look at some non-narcotic painkiller treatments for pain.

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