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Addressing Two Epidemics: Chronic Pain and Addiction

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Drug abuse

Two devastating epidemics are raging across America: an epidemic of chronic pain, which affects 116 million Americans, and an epidemic of opioid abuse and addiction, which has 2 million Americans in its grip, with tens of thousands dying annually of opioid overdoses.

These two epidemics are causally related. A monumental increase in the number of opioid prescriptions written for chronic pain patients has resulted in a huge increase in the number of medical users and those who steal from their medicine cabinets becoming addicted to prescription opioids. When they can no longer get adequate amounts of the opioids from legitimate channels, they turn to heroin on the street, which is cheaper and more readily available than prescription painkillers.

Although many are calling for tighter monitoring of prescription painkillers, to date these efforts have only pushed those addicted into using heroin instead. Many others are calling for more drug treatment facilities to address the rising tide of addiction. While this response is necessary to care for those already hooked, it is not adequate to address the full problem. Drug treatment is costly, often ineffective, and occurs only after individuals, families, and communities have already suffered grave harm.

Preventing addiction is key. The best way to do this is to reduce the number of new prescriptions for opioids dispensed to chronic pain patients. Fortunately, curtailing opioid prescriptions can be done without harming pain patients, because safer, more effective pain treatments exist. Opioids do not work well for chronic pain. Pain patients who take opioids have more pain in the long run than patients who don’t take them.

All of the following treatments can relieve pain without dangerous side effects: Mind/body approaches, including cognitive behavioral therapy, relaxation training, biofeedback and rapid trauma resolution techniques; body-based therapies including chiropractic, physical therapy and massage; vitamins; herbs; exercise; acupuncture; energy healing; homeopathy, and low level laser therapy. Used alone or in combination, these therapies can get to the root of the problem and resolve it rather than just covering up the symptom.

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