Non-drug alternatives for pain management gaining momentum among public, treatment providers.

From the dark devastation of the opioid epidemic comes a hopeful transformation in health care. It’s a transformation in pain treatment that has received little attention, but it is well underway and gaining momentum as experts seek better solutions to end the opioid epidemic.

Before we can appreciate the potential of this metamorphosis in pain management, we have to clearly understand how the epidemic started.

More than 4,000 Ohioans died in 2016 from drug overdoses, not because they were simply addicts chasing their latest fix. Too many started down the dark road of addiction with a visit to a medical physician under pressure to provide pain relief, under the belief the latest pain pills were not addictive and under limitations by health insurance. Whereas a comprehensive plan of pain management once might have included hands-on therapies, psychological counseling and medication, modern insurance coverage dictated using modern medicine: pain pills. If the pain pills did not provide adequate relief, then pain experts recommended doctors give higher doses. When the pills no longer were enough, too expensive or the doctor balked at further prescriptions, heroin became the easy solution.

This perfect constellation of factors created a drug problem of epidemic proportions.

Two patient groups hit especially hard by the opioid epidemic include military veterans and Ohio’s injured workers. Both groups suffer with significant painful injuries treated in systems that favor opioid pain medications over alternatives. Veterans’ drug overdose deaths have been twice the national average, while Ohio’s injured worker drug overdose deaths have been three times our state’s already high average.

With an understanding of the opioid epidemic’s origins, there is new hope as experts throughout health care and government agencies recognize an alternative to opioid pain medications. In response to the epidemic, Ohio released one of the first pain management guidelines, recommending pain be treated with non-drug options like chiropractic or acupuncture first. The Federal Drug Administration, Institute of Medicine and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention weighed in with similar recommendations for non-drug pain treatments as first-line treatment.

Earlier this year, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study finding chiropractic manipulation to be a safe and effective treatment for spine pain. Consumer Reports soon followed with a report recommending chiropractic manipulation, as 90 percent of those patients who tried it found it to be helpful.

Then the American College of Physicians joined the growing wave of support for non-drug treatment as part of its updated back pain treatment guidelines. These guidelines recommended chiropractic and non-drug treatment be tried first, even before acetaminophen and ibuprofen, which large studies have found to be less effective and riskier than long assumed.

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