The U.S. opioid crisis permeated an array of conversations during the last 12 months, from politics to entertainment news. However, those in the chiropractic community – leaders in drug-free pain management – know the topic quite well. Chiropractors recently emerged as a prominent voice on stemming over-use and abuse of prescription pain medications, especially those masking musculoskeletal symptoms.
The statistics are staggering. In 2015, 33,000 Americans died from overdoses of the prescription painkillers heroin, fentanyl or any combination, that’s almost 65 percent of total drug overdose deaths. The trend of prescribing opioids for pain relief increased dramatically in the 1990s. At the time, most believed a relatively small number of patients risked addiction. However, a Kaiser Family Foundation and Washington Post study last fall told a completely different story. A staggering one-third of those prescribed long-term opioid treatment felt they were addicted or physically dependent. Tragic stories of need and desperation mirror these numbers.
Now, chiropractors are raising their voices around the nation and with lawmakers, emphasizing a new way to look at pain management.
Opioid Prescriptions and Back Pain
“Chiropractors are not the problem,” Marc Siegel, MD, of New York University of Medicine at NYC Langone Medical Center and FOX News health commentator said. “In fact, zero percent of chiropractors actually prescribe opioids. Primary care doctors are responsible for 28 percent of the problem, and let me tell you why: someone comes to us for back pain, and maybe we understand that the back is a tight compartment of muscle, nerve and bone, but maybe we don’t know which is causing the problem. So, what do primary care doctors do? They start trying to medicate to get the patient feeling better.”
According to the British Medical Journal, more than half of regular opioid users globally began the drug treatment due to back pain. Opioid treatment increases in frequency two to three times in the U.S. and Canada. This leaves little doubt that back pain in the U.S. starts many down the path of abuse. Sadly, the drugs produce only short-term pain relief in exchange for addiction concerns. Research shows minimal evidence of opioid efficacy and little-to-no increase in returning back-pain patients to work.
Drug-Free, Surgery-Free Solutions
Many patients already look to chiropractic’s advantage of drug-free treatment. However, we need further education on non-drug therapy pain treatments for those designing our healthcare system as well. This is particularly true of private insurance and government reimbursement programs. Currently, the system favors the quick response rates of drug therapy rather than longer care regimens, such as chiropractic. This remains despite glaring differences in long-term results. Until this changes, many patients and providers feel trapped in the dangerous opioid cycle.
The ability to offer drug-free and surgery-free treatments remains a key advantage of chiropractic care. Our patients discovered this advantage long ago. Now, our nation must realize natural pain-relief offers not only a solution for individuals but our entire healthcare system.