More Medical Educators And Researchers Explore Alternatives To Opioids For Pain

By Dr. John Rosa

alternative therapy

Pain Relief Without Opioids IS Possible

All too often I write about the heartbreaking, heinous and important statistics associated with the opioid epidemic. However, I’m going to kick this New Year and new decade off by sharing some good news that is coming out of our medical colleges which will have a positive effect on the opioid crisis in years to come.

A Conscious Move Toward Caring For Chronic Pain Without Opioids

The fact is that a greater number of medical educators and researchers are increasingly exploring nonpharmacological treatments for pain. The trend seems to be growing in medical colleges across the country in response to the growing opioid crisis. More and more attention is being given to Integrative Medicine which involves instruction in how to care for patients suffering from chronic pain with reductions in or without the use of opioids. And that is great news.

Heightened Research Into Nonpharmacological Treatments For Chronic Pain

Health institutions across the board are joining in on the effort to help curtail and put an end to the opioid addiction in this country. For instance, in 2018, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched a cross-divisional effort called the Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative. The objective of HEAL is to focus on “evidence-based treatments for opioid misuse and addiction, as well as more innovative solutions for pain management.” This initiative also includes research on “health approaches outside the boundaries of conventional medicine.” This shift in focus has accelerated the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, which is a division of NIH, to accelerate its own research into nonpharmacological treatments for chronic pain.

Alternative Therapies Are Popular But Not Yet Mainstream In Medical Care

Massage, yoga and acupuncture are some of the health therapies that have been around for thousands of years. These methods have certainly become popular with a multitude of Americans, yet, they have not been embraced into mainstream medical care here in the U.S. I am happy to report that that too is changing as more doctors are not only acknowledging, but also prescribing chiropractic, as well as massage and yoga for a variety of health issues.

Complementary And Integrative Medicine (CIM) Getting Stronger But Still Hurdles

Just before the turn of the century, back in 1999, the first meeting of the Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine was held. Representatives from eight academic institutions attended. Now as we are entering the second decade of the 2000’s the consortium includes more than 70 academic institutions and health systems in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The progress toward a more integrative approach is uplifting, yet there are still hurdles. A big one is getting insurance companies to cover these therapies.

Insurance Currently Pays For Some But Not All Alternative Therapies

If demand is what compels change, then we may be seeing more insurance coverage for alternative healing therapies eventually. As it is, “four out of ten U.S. adults go outside the health system to use complementary, natural or alternative therapies. Some 600 million visits to these practitioners are made each year (which surpasses that made to conventional medical practitioners), and patients pay an estimated $30 billion out of their own pockets for such non-traditional care per year.”

The good news is that there is some insurance coverage for alternative therapies such as chiropractic visits and acupuncture. While the prevalence is nowhere near that of conventional treatments it is a hopeful sign. Perhaps the opioid epidemic will push the medical profession further in their acceptance of alternative treatments.

Decrease Pain, Increase Mobility, Limit Opioid Medications

By Dr. John Rosa

pain management

What if I told you that you could decrease pain without medication?

The title of this article is the holistic strategy used with patients who come to my chiropractic centers in pain. My goal is to educate patients, caregivers and anyone else who is interested, how to manage pain without the use of opioid medications.

I recently placed myself into a busy Primary Care medical practice where we have been able to reduce opioid prescriptions by 70% through the integration of Chiropractic, physical therapy and behavioral medicine. Some of the therapies and behavioral approaches include yoga, Acupuncture, massage, mindfulness and meditation, among others. This highly successful integrative approach clearly illustrates that we, as a society, do not need to be drug dependent to be pain-free.

The Pain Is Real

Without question many people live with chronic, oftentimes debilitating pain. As a result of attempting to relieve this pain, the pharmaceutical industry has created highly addictive medications. The medications do relieve the physical pain, but more often than not they lead to more severely painful problems such as addiction and death. And, importantly, they inhibit the body’s own healing wisdom.

In addition, doctors and the pharmaceutical companies have a responsibility to prevent the unnecessary use and abuse of opioid medications. In a recent article I read about some very recent research on the topic, “the researchers concluded that prescribers, pharmacists, drug companies and the FDA — all of whom had agreed to special rules and monitoring for use of the powerful opioid — had allowed it to fall into the hands of thousands of inappropriate patients. Over time, the FDA and drug companies became aware this was happening but took no action, the researchers found.” The research also stated that, “Using five years of insurance claims data, the researchers found that between 34.6 percent and 55.4 percent of patients shouldn’t have received the drugs.”

Integrative Pain Management

I’ll begin by saying that integrative pain management is a process that requires more effort than merely popping a pill. However, long-term, this method allows the natural healing process of the body to work its wonders. The body’s ability to heal itself is nothing short of miraculous, but we have to give it the time it needs. A comprehensive multidisciplinary approach to pain syndromes and musculoskeletal disorders will typically not satisfy most American’s desire for instant gratification, but it will lead to healing versus addiction.

Speaking Of Pain

In my quest to educate and help move our society away from the use and abuse of opioid drugs, I conduct events and speak to groups about the opioid epidemic and how we can help turn the tide of this devastating practice. Don’t get me wrong. There is a time and a place for the use of opioids, but those times and places are not widespread and do not call for widespread prescriptions. We, as a culture, must get over our insistence on instant gratification.

The most common pain related diagnosis is low back pain. The most common cause of disability is low back pain. The most common reason for prescription opioids is low back pain. And, the treatment that has the highest rate of success battling low back pain is Chiropractic. Funny…Chiropractic is the only physician in the medical world that NEVER prescribes medication, yet only 1% of medical doctors make referrals for the known cure. Now that’s painful!