Joining the Fight to Solve the Opioid Epidemic
The opioid overdose has become a national crisis and a public health emergency with more than 36 million people abusing opioids in one year. The CDC reports that 115 people die from opioid overdose EVERY DAY.
These statistics might make you think that there are a lot of “drug users” out there, however, the shocking fact is that a significant number of these deaths were related to patients being prescribed opioid painkillers by a medical doctor. The population of people within these statistics are everyday males & females of all ethnicities and all ages who seek out medical treatment for back pain, sports injury pain, arthritis pain, chronic pain, etc. 1 out of 5 patients with non-cancer pain or pain related diagnosis are prescribed opioids in office-based settings as their primary form of treatment. Due to misleading marketing techniques by the pharma companies, doctors were not fully aware of the addictive nature that opioids had on patients. In 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication, enough for every adult in the United States to have a bottle of pills.
The truth is that pain medicine works. It works initially in masking the pain. It works so well in providing relief that people become reliant and addicted to the medication and the medication becomes their primary form of treatment. However, the relief tends to diminish over time and patients require more medication to help the pain go away. This is a vicious cycle of increasing patient’s reliance and dependency while never really fixing the main problem of why they are having pain. This is called “abusing” pain medication. Every day, more than 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for misusing prescription opioids. For many people, this opens the door to more serious drugs such as heroin. The American Society of Addiction Medicine reports that 4 out of 5 people who try heroin started with prescription painkillers. This is all part of the statistic of 115 people dying from opioid overdose EVERY DAY.
The question is how can we as a society change this and what can
In order to answer that question, we need to take another look at why people are prescribed opioids in the first place. In general, our society wants a quick fix and a way to feel better immediately. Doctors are tasked with trying to provide that quick fix and quick pain relief, therefore, an opioid is prescribed to genuinely make the patient feel better. However, opioids function by reducing the pain signal perception in the brain. It does not change the cause of pain or treat the primary problem of why you are having pain. High-quality research studies have shown that there are safer and more effective ways of treating pain. Exercise therapy (also known as physical therapy) has been found to reduce pain and improve function in hip and knee osteoarthritis (OA), low back pain and fibromyalgia. These diagnoses are the most common conditions where prescription opioid medications are prescribed. Physical therapy takes a look at muscle imbalances, flexibility deficits and functional movement patterns that have led to the cause of the pain. A personalized exercise plan is created to treat every patients’ individual deficits and improve pain and function.
For example, a patient has chronic back pain and was diagnosed with a herniated disc from his/her doctor. Although the diagnosis is a herniated disc, the actual cause of the herniated disc might be due to the patient sitting all day at work in bad posture. This leads to tight hip flexors and hamstrings, weak core muscles and a significant increase in pressure of the discs. Therefore, the continued poor sitting posture, muscle, and skeletal changes are the root cause of her back pain. Physical therapy will treat this root cause through education, exercise, modalities, and manual therapy instead of opioids.
According to the CDC “Opioids should not be considered first-line or routine therapy for chronic pain,” the guidelines said, recommending that doctors first consider “non-pharmacologic” approaches, such as physical therapy, and “non-opioid pharmacologic” treatments. Although physical therapy is not a quick fix, it has better and safer long-term outcomes than opioid medication. Therefore, patients should be choosing physical therapy first (#ChoosePT) to manage pain before turning to opioid medication.
Many people don’t know where to start when it comes to finding a physical therapy clinic. They assume physical therapy needs to be prescribed by their physician and they are at a loss for where to go, who takes their insurance, and which one is the best fit.
We encourage you to tell your family, tell your friends, and tell your physicians about