Meloxicam: A Safer Alternative to Opioid Painkillers?

Last Updated on October 4, 2023

meloxicam pills

Although the dangers of opioid painkillers are well-known and documented, there are few alternative options that provide effective relief from chronic or severe pain. For those who are in recovery from substance use disorder, managing pain without opioid drugs may sometimes be difficult. Meloxicam is one drug that has been considered as a possible alternative to opioids and it shows promise. However, meloxicam and other NSAIDs also come with their own set of risks.

What is Meloxicam?

Meloxicam is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that is used to treat pain and inflammation.1 It is sold under the brand name Mobic, which is used to treat arthritis. It is recommended that the lowest possible effective dose is used for patients taking meloxicam, as higher doses can cause significant health problems. The average dose is 7.5 mg daily and Mobic is administered in tablet, liquid, or capsule form.

How Does Meloxicam Work?

Meloxicam works to reduce pain by decreasing the production of prostaglandins, which are chemicals that contribute to inflammation, especially within the joints of the body. Other NSAIDs like Ibuprofen (Motrin), Indomethacin (Indocin), and Nabumetone (Relafen) work the same way.

Is Meloxicam a Strong Painkiller?

Yes, meloxicam is a strong painkiller that is only legally available with a prescription. Although NSAIDs are available in an over-the-counter or prescription form, meloxicam is more potent than other over-the-counter NSAIDs that are used to treat pain. Examples of less potent NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), and diclofenac gel.

Is Meloxicam Stronger than Ibuprofen?

Yes, meloxicam is a stronger drug than ibuprofen. Both drugs are available in prescription form but ibuprofen is also available in over-the-counter form. Although both ibuprofen and meloxicam are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), meloxicam is a long-acting drug that can relieve pain for up to 24 hours and it is not prescribed in combination with other drugs. Comparatively, ibuprofen is generally taken three to four times a day (although longer-lasting forms of the drug can be prescribed) and it is available in combination with other medications.2

Is Meloxicam Like Tramadol?

Meloxicam and tramadol are both used to treat pain, so they are similar but not the same. Meloxicam and tramadol belong to different classes of drugs. Meloxicam is an NSAID and tramadol is a narcotic painkiller. Both drugs may also interact with alcohol, antidepressants, heart medication, or blood pressure medication. Meloxicam and tramadol share some side effects, including nausea, drowsiness, stomach upset, dizziness, diarrhea, headache, nervousness, and skin rash.

How Long Does Meloxicam Stay in Your System?

The elimination half-life of meloxicam (or the duration of time it takes your body to metabolize and get rid of half of the drug in your system) is about 20 hours.3 However, this varies from person to person. Meloxicam can also be detected by a urine drug test for up to five days after the last dose.

What is Meloxicam Used For?

Meloxicam is approved by the FDA to treat pain and inflammation caused by arthritis.4 Other NSAIDs like meloxicam are used to treat mild to moderate pain and fever. Specifically, NSAIDs may be used to treat a variety of medical conditions and ailments such as:

  • Headaches
  • Arthritis
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Sports injuries
  • Ankylosing spondylitis (a form of arthritis that causes chronic inflammation of the spine)

NSAIDs are also found in many cold and allergy medications.

Is Meloxicam a Narcotic?

No, meloxicam is not a narcotic. It is classified as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Unlike narcotics, these types of drugs work by reducing the production of certain hormones that cause pain and inflammation.

Is Meloxicam a Controlled Substance?

No, meloxicam is not a controlled substance in the U.S. However, there is still a risk that it will be misused and it can cause psychological addiction even though it won’t get you high.

Does Meloxicam Help with Back Pain?

Although meloxicam may help relieve back pain, the FDA has only approved it for treating symptoms of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis, such as inflammation, swelling, stiffness, and joint pain.5

What are the Side Effects of Meloxicam?

Although meloxicam is effective in relieving pain, swelling, and tenderness caused by arthritis conditions, it does have some side effects that users should be aware of. Common side effects of meloxicam include:

  • Stomachache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Blurred vision
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fluid retention/swelling
  • Liver damage/liver disease2

Some people are also highly allergic to NSAIDs, which can lead to serious reactions. Additionally, people who are at risk of heart disease may also face an increased risk of stroke or deadly heart attacks and people with kidney problems are at risk for kidney failure and should avoid taking meloxicam.4

Meloxicam vs. Opioids: Which is Safer?

According to the CDC, more than 191 million opioid prescriptions were dispensed to American patients in 2017 and between July 2016 and September 2017, emergency department visits for opioid overdoses rose 30 percent in all parts of the U.S.6,7 More than 130 people die every day from opioid-related overdoses and in 2017 alone, 2 million people misused prescription opioid drugs for the first time.6

Due to the clear dangers and risks of prescription opioid painkillers, medical experts and scientists are searching for alternatives that are just as effective for pain relief, without the risk for dependence and addiction. Unfortunately, this process isn’t as easy as it sounds. Every person has a different threshold for pain so certain drugs may work well for some, but not others. Additionally, some alternative drugs work to relieve pain, but they cause serious side effects.

Although opioid drugs like hydrocodone, morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone and others are touted as the most potent prescription painkillers available, one 2018 study published in JAMA found that they were no more effective than non-opioid drugs in treating moderate to severe chronic back pain or hip or knee osteoarthritis over a 12-month span.7

Since some scientific studies have shown meloxicam to be just as effective for certain types of pain relief, there is a possibility that it may be a better treatment method than opioid medication. Although a person could still abuse meloxicam and become psychologically dependent, the risk of dependence is less severe than that of opioids.

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Will Meloxicam Get You High?

While it is possible to abuse meloxicam by taking larger doses or taking it without a medical need for it, it will not produce a euphoric high as prescription opioids do. There is, however, a risk for overdose if a person takes too much meloxicam or takes it too quickly.4

Is Meloxicam Addictive?

Meloxicam is not considered physically addictive, although a person may become psychologically addicted to the pain relief it provides. Regardless, the FDA discourages doctors from prescribing meloxicam to people with a history of substance use disorder or to those who have previously abused prescription opioid painkillers.3

Meloxicam Abuse

Although meloxicam will not produce a euphoric high, some people still abuse it in the hopes of achieving a high that is similar to that of opioid painkillers. This is due to the common misconception that meloxicam is a narcotic when it is really an NSAID.

Unfortunately, if a person is not experiencing physical pain and they take meloxicam, they may suffer damage to the liver and kidneys. The medication may also cause their blood to thin. The risk of overdose is also much higher if a person abuses meloxicam with other NSAIDs like ibuprofen.10

The combination of meloxicam and alcohol is also highly dangerous and may result in jaundice, internal bleeding of the stomach, or liver failure.10 As a result, there is no benefit to abusing meloxicam recreationally.

Meloxicam comes with its own set of risks and side effects, but it may be a safer alternative to opioid painkillers without as much potential for abuse and addiction.

Treatment for Meloxicam Abuse

Abusing meloxicam recreationally might be a sign of a deeper problem, as the drug does not provide any euphoric side effects. A drug rehab program can provide life skills, peer support, and behavioral therapy to address co-occurring disorders and the root causes of your addiction, so you can learn how to live sober without relying on drugs to cope with life circumstances.

If you or a loved one is struggling with meloxicam abuse or is addicted to prescription medication, Nova Recovery Center can help. Call today to speak with a Nova admissions representative. We have immediate openings and accept several different health insurance providers.

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