In the previous post, I discussed the real reasons for the opioid epidemic in our country. A letter was published in a highly respected medical journal that discussed flawed research about the risk of addiction when using prescription opioids for pain management. This led to several other similarly flawed studies.
Of course, big pharma capitalized on this by lobbying hard to ease restrictions on the use of opioids for non-cancer pain. In just 16 years, the number of opioid overdoses quadrupled, leading to the epidemic we face today.
While heroin, an illegal opioid drug, is a very serious problem, the overprescription of legal opioids, such as Oxycontin, Vicodin and Percocet, causes the vast majority of overdoses and deaths.
In fact, a National Safety Council survey found that 99 percent of doctors who prescribe narcotic painkillers give their patients prescriptions that exceed the three-day dosage recommended by the federal government.
99 percent. Let that sink in for a second.
The study found that nearly a quarter of doctors prescribe month-long dosages. Only a third ask about the patient’s family history of addiction, and only 5 percent offer help to patients when signs of abuse are detected.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has rolled out strict prescription guidelines and the FDA has ordered the use of warning labels, the opioid crisis continues to be a real stain on the fabric of our healthcare system. The very industries that exist to help us stay healthy are the ones that created this epidemic.
I see the sad effects of this every day in clinical practice.
I believe my job as a healthcare provider is to identify solutions for treating pain, inflammation and muscle spasms that don’t involve the aggressive use of medication, injections or surgery.
Now I’m not naïve. My patients need surgery from time to time. Thank God we have surgeons. Thank God we have epidurals. Thank God my wife had pain medication when she went through five C-sections. There’s a time and a place for pain medication, but only when used sparingly and temporarily.
The safer, healthier approach to treating pain is non-medical and non-pharmaceutical. It involves chiropractic care, physical therapy, acupuncture and therapeutic massage. It involves customized clinical nutritional protocols, exercise programs and stress management. If necessary, treatment might involve nutraceuticals such as natural anti-inflammatories, natural muscle relaxers, and natural painkillers. I use them every day in clinical practice. For example, curcumin, turmeric and fish oil can be used to treat acute and chronic pain and inflammation.
A Medicaid pilot project in Rhode Island found that an integrated chronic pain program consisting of chiropractic, massage, acupuncture and stress reduction produced fantastic results for participants. Opioid prescriptions, emergency room visits, and total claim costs dropped significantly. A survey of participants found that 92 percent agree or strongly agree that their pain level was reduced, and 82 percent believe their quality of life has improved.
If you’re having a painful episode, such as headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome, sciatica, or pain in your back, neck, shoulder or leg, seek treatment that views medication and surgery as last resorts. Even if your pain is related to an organ, like Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome, you don’t have to look for relief in a bottle.
To fix the opioid epidemic, doctors need to stop overprescribing opioids. As healthcare consumers, we all need to become educated about not just the brand names that appear on the label, but the ingredients and the risk they create. We need to resist the urge to rely on the “non-addictive opioids” that, as I write this, big pharma is testing and trying to get approved for sale to medical offices. Instead, we should look for treatment methods that stimulate the body’s natural healing ability.
Health literacy is the key to longevity. We all need to understand what we put in our bodies so we can make better decisions and take control of our health.