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Has the Pendulum Swung Too Far? Chronic Pain vs. Opioid Addiction

Posted: February 15th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Controlled Substances, In the News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

Video courtesy of CBS Los Angeles

It’s estimated that 100 million Americans struggle with chronic pain, yet most are facing a barrage of obstacles while seeking treatment in order to appropriately manage their pain. With the current opioid epidemic sweeping the nation, people want the number of opioid overdoses to fall, but patients don’t want to be made to suffer, and rightfully so.

Has the opioid crisis and its implications prevented legitimate chronic pain sufferers from receiving the treatment and associated services they require to productively function in life?

As of recently, more than half of prescribers across America are cutting back on opioid prescriptions, and nearly 1 in 10 have stopped prescribing them altogether. They’re ultimately struggling to find a balance about the merits of using opioids to treat pain, especially in the absence of effective and affordable alternatives.

With this reality, it appears that the chronic pain population is facing an uphill battle, especially with the justified fear of prescribers pulling back in such a chaotic way that could be harmful to patients. Opioid drugs affect the body in an extreme manner and are not something a patient should stop abruptly or without appropriate medical oversight. It needs to be a monitored process, especially for those who have been on long term treatment.

In fairness to the other component of the chronic pain equation, are those patients that truly suffer from opioid addiction. As noted in a recent Boston Globe article, physicians face myriad pressure as they struggle to treat addiction and chronic pain, two conditions in which most physicians receive little training and often intertwine with one another.

Addiction is a complex disease that requires multifaceted solutions and a team approach. No single physician can provide the breadth of treatment required, nor are the necessary payment mechanisms in place to facilitate the “entirety” approach to treating addiction. That and the lack of physician education in addiction further fuels the long battle chronic pain patients are currently experiencing. Without proper knowledge of the physician, is every chronic pain patient now being viewed as an addict? Is that a realistic prejudice they’re being faced with?

In many cases, physicians are walking away completely – they don’t even want to see patients in chronic pain, but others urge to partner with patients and stay with them to help find other options. Such alternatives include The Spaulding Program, a program aimed at developing and teaching coping mechanisms, strategies, and “tricks” to manage and get through the pain. Although the program experiences great success, it had to limit its operation 20 years ago due to insurers ceasing payment for their comprehensive form of care.

It’s hopeful that the concern over opioids will lead to improved care, by deepening the doctor-patient relationship and opening the door for conversation to talk about managing pain, thus pointing to the desperate need for alternative treatments. For now, what is a chronic pain sufferer to do?

Author: Mark H.

Sources: Health.com; The Hill; American Academy of Pain Medicine; Boston Globe; Kevin MD Blog; CBS Los Angeles

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