It should be no surprise to anyway not living in a cave that our country has an opioid fixation. This would be just fine if opioids were as harmless as Minecraft, but they’re not. There is a very real risk of death associated with even properly prescribed opioid medications for pain relief. So much so that, as the 2000’s progressed, death from licit drug use surpassed illicit drug deaths from heroin and morphine.
We’ve got a problem.
And it’s not small. The estimate to manage the opioid problem for 2013? A whopping 78.5 BILLION dollars.
While there has been an update to the prescribing recommendations from the CDC that has changed both physician prescribing behavior and pharmacy policies, the problem had been going on for years prior to this.
As a practicing chiropractor, I have seen many patients over the years come in to me AFTER they had been to the ER, urgent care or their PCP. It was not uncommon for these patients to have been given a prescription for Percocet or Vicodin for an episode of low back pain that was literally wiped out in 15 minutes in my office.
A study done in 2010 found that, in visits to primary care doctors’ offices for low back pain, almost 20% came away with a prescription for opioids.
But do they work?
In short. No. A recent review looked at whether opioids helped for patients suffering from low back pain. This large review of multiple studies found that there was a “modest” short term benefit but that this benefit was not really going to make a difference at the prescription dosages normally given. So, while some people may benefit, the vast majority will not. And the risks associated with opioid use lead to the statistics already mentioned in this article.
So what other options are there?
As a chiropractor for over 18 years, my position is clearly biased. So instead of looking at my own opinion, I can share some medical research studies that support my bias.
In one study looking at injured workers, cases involving chiropractic care had the most alliance with accepted guidelines, lower total costs and the lowest prescription rates in all seven classes of drugs studied (which included opioids). Another study looking at chiropractic care for degenerative disc disease found it to be effective for not only pain, but also for improved disc height and improved flexibility.
Other natural options for pain relief include yoga, physical therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and acupuncture. In almost all cases, it makes sense to try the options first, before starting on pain meds that could cost you your life.