There is little arguing that America is in the grips of a terrible opioid epidemic. More and more people are getting addicted to dangerous, powerful painkillers and more people are dying as a direct result of an overdose due to opioids. Additionally, more and more people with a physical dependency to prescription opioids are turning to the often more powerful, cheaper alternative of heroin.
In the 1990’s America saw a surge in the prescribing of opioids, medications previously reserved for short-term analgesia or for easing the pain of terminal cancer patients. Studies demonstrated that opioids were safe to prescribe to patients for years on end and opioids began to be prescribed to treat all manners of medical conditions, such as back pain, headaches, toothaches and the like. Many researchers and doctors claimed that there was no actual ceiling on prescribed dosage so that painkiller dosages should be increased to address whatever tolerance to the medication a patient exhibited. Pharmaceutical companies began churning out all manners of opioids and doctors began to prescribe and clearly overprescribe opioids, leading us to the current American crisis.
However, what about those Americans that suffer from chronic pain? Chronic pain affects a large amount of the American population, according to some statistics as much as one-third of all Americans. Naturally, for years many doctors have been prescribing opioids for chronic pain. However, there is much evidence to suggest that this manner of treating chronic pain with powerful narcotics is not just ineffective but also dangerous.
Taking opioids for chronic pain can be a slippery slope. A 2011 study determined that of people who used opioids for at least three months to treat pain, 50 percent were still on those same opioids five years later. Additionally, most of the painkiller drugs used to treat chronic pain are approved on the basis of short-term clinical trials. In fact, sometimes consistent use of opioids for pain can cause more pain since it makes the pain worse by causing hypersensitivity to pain and other sensations.
Instead of opioids, many doctors with an understanding of pain and addiction believe that a better way to treat chronic pain is through holistic efforts that focus on not just the pain but the whole human being in a mind, body, spirit approach. It is important to offer a comprehensive approach to treat chronic pain that not just offers a medical perspective but also a clinical and holistic perspective. This can include methods such as personal training, stretching, chiropractic care, breathing exercises, non-invasive brain stimulation, psychotherapy, massage, yoga, physical therapy and reflexology.
One of the most useful tools in a holistic approach to chronic pain is the use of psychotherapy and psychological counseling that allows the sufferer to separate themselves from their pain. This tool can allow the individual to identify underlying conditions that may be helping to cause, exacerbate or worsen the pain as well as separate themselves and their identify from the pain. Psychotherapy allows the patient to discuss their pain in a safe and therapeutic environment that they feel supported in while also working with a therapist to design a plan for a successful quality of life.
There is little doubt that many people suffer from chronic pain, but as evidenced by the current opioid epidemic there is little doubt that a better way exists for many people to treat chronic pain. A holistic approach of mind, body, and spirit should not just be an option but should probably be the primary option to treat chronic pain with the last resort being, after exhausting all other measure, powerful opioid medications.
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