The headlines just keep coming:
- West Virginia Heroin Overdoses: City has 27 Dead in 4 Hours
- Rising OD Deaths Create Backlog in South Florida Morgues
- Life Expectancy in the U.S. Is Falling and Drug Overdose Deaths Are Soaring
With the rise of opioid-related deaths, new regulations now reveal that opiate medication should only be looked at as a last resort when treating non-cancer chronic pain.
A loss for “Big Pharma” but a win for pain patients everywhere.
Truth, most Americans these days are either trying to get pills, helping someone else get them, in recovery from using too many or worse, dead from overdosing.
Each year, the medical community at large including individual patients residing in the U.S. alone, spend over $55 billion in health and social costs related to prescription opioid abuse. Do you know how much $55 billion actually is —because I don’t? Most of us will never even come close to being in the same room as someone worth $55 billion, let alone see or spend it.
Everything just seems so contradictory these days. Don’t you think it’s about time for a different approach? Why are some doctors so quick to write a refill for oxy while others are too afraid to even take their prescription pad out?
Patients are still in pain while more people than ever are seriously addicted. Today, emergency departments and inpatient care facilities across our nation are forced to spend an additional $20 billion as an effort to save lives, thanks to Narcan (naloxone) —a medication used to treat narcotic overdoses and poisonings in crisis situations.
The sad thing is, these emergency circumstances are happening more and more from doctor prescribed narcotics. Legitimately 120 people accidentally overdose and die every day because of some form of opioid including prescription painkillers and heroin, yet we’re not any closer to a cure for chronic pain.
Going Back to Basics
Cause and effect is a relationship between events or things, where one is the result of the other or others. This is a combination of action and reaction. I say this because back in the 1990s, a marketing campaign led by Perdue Pharma promoted the widespread use of opioids to treat pain with “minimized risk of addiction.”
Prescriptions were literally encouraged by doctors and handed out without question to patients with long- and short-term pain. Let me add that these physicians were not acting impetuously.
“We, doctors, were wrong in thinking that opioids can’t be used long-term,” claims Dr. Alan Spanos of Perdue Pharma in the HBO Documentary, This Drug May Kill You, which featured the commercial published in the 90s. “They can be and they should be. We used to think, they’d stop working or the patients would become addicts or they’d be sedated into inactivity.”
The screen then cuts to a teenage female sitting on a bus, nodding out from taking pills while people stare and ask if she’s dead.
“We now find that these medicines are much safer, much more powerful, much more versatile than we used to think. We feel that they should be used much more liberally for people with all sorts of chronic pain,” Spanos maintains.
Flash forward to today —those “safe and powerful drugs” come at the price of addiction or worse, death. But are they living up to their billing? Are they killing pain or simply killing people?
No Time But the Present
“A new guideline, out Tuesday from the American College of Physicians (ACP) suggests doctors now recommend exercise and treatments like heat wraps, yoga, and mindfulness meditation to their patients before turning to medications like opioids or even over-the-counter painkillers,” answers Roger Chou, a professor at Oregon Health and Science University to a Vox Media rep.
This is huge, guys.
“This marks a big departure from previous guidelines,” Chou calculates. Previous guidelines basically stated the reverse.
The ACP also notes alternative therapies, such as non-psychoactive Cannabidiol (CBD) oil, other cannabis products, as well as physical activity, can and will work just as well, if not better than prescription drugs without any side effects or the dreaded withdrawal.
This group of doctors greatly discourages the use of opioids in general —considering research strongly suggests that these medications are only moderately effective for short-term pain. Even though not all physicians agree, with confirmation from Chou, pain specialists everywhere are actually saying drugs should only be considered as a last resort for treatment of pain.
I repeat, the minority is now the majority.
With one goal in mind, we can throw away the orange bottle with the white cap and look at more practical ways to manage our long-term non-cancer pain —because a pill isn’t going to take away all of our problems. Truth, it’s going to throw your body more out of whack and make everything worse (in the long run —maybe even right now).
Here’s to Your Future
Now, I’m not saying to literally throw your legitimate prescriptions down the toilet because you definitely don’t want to quit cold turkey. Opioid withdrawal is a real and dangerous thing. It’s hard but doable.
First, you want to taper off your medications slowly with help from your medical team. Your doctor can actually devise a specific wean off plan tailored to you and your needs. Typically, doses are lowered and managed over time between appointments —usually, 20-50 percent of the original dose is decreased on a weekly basis.
The first week will be the roughest. Over time though, the harmful side effects will dissolve. After another month or two, you will feel that much more like your old self.
You may even find your new normal.
The best part is, the actions you’ll take to reduce your withdrawal suffering as well as replace the opioids themselves will also help you find pain relief. Doctors say to opt for the same nutritious options you would normally do to stay healthy: exercise, sustain a healthy diet, and avoid injury.
If you have pain for less than 12 weeks —the ACP proposes you try heat therapy first accompanied by massage therapy, acupuncture, and spinal manipulation. For those with chronic pain, the ACP recommends a combination of physical therapy, exercise, acupuncture, and mindfulness-based stress reduction.
You may also want to consider yoga, tai chi, aquatic therapy, low-level laser therapy, and some form of talk therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy.
“Exercise should generally be the first-line therapy for chronic pain,” Chou finishes. “Passive therapies like spinal manipulation and acupuncture should be used in conjunction with more ‘active’ therapies such as psychological therapies, yoga, and mindfulness-based stress reduction.”
With doctors and the medical community at large finally opening their eyes to the fact that a magic pill doesn’t actually exist to fight pain, we can open our eyes to more holistic solutions.
For the 183,000 who lost their lives to the opioid epidemic within the last 16 years, I wish I could bring you back. For anyone directly affected by constant discomfort or substance abuse, I literally feel your pain.
And for everyone, remember that there’s always another way.