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Prescription for Pain: Opioids Leave Chiropractors in Disbelief

By Martha Michael

Healthcare Patient Holding Handful of Opioids

For many years, American parents knew that handing their kids the car keys also put them at risk of falling victim to the leading cause of accidental death. But what they didn't know was a massive healthcare shift would eventually make them more likely to die of an accident at home than on the road.

Drug overdosing has now eclipsed automobile crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in America, and almost half are from opioid use. National Public Radio reports that researchers at the Centers for Disease Control have examined prescribing patterns to explain the huge number of patients getting opioids today. Doctors prescribe enough opioids to supply every American with the means to be medicated around the clock for three weeks, says Anne Schuchat, the CDC's acting director.

"The bottom line is that too many [people] are still getting too much for too long," Schuchat told NPR.

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That leaves many health professionals in disbelief that the medical profession has subjected patients to such risks that 1 in 3 Americans have used an addictive prescription opioid, and that nearly half of the 33,000 deaths from opioids in 2015 were from prescriptions. And the numbers are growing annually.

Chronic pain affects more Americans than heart disease, cancer, and diabetes combined, according to the National Institutes of Health. Opioids to treat pain have become an epidemic in its own right, so what’s the answer? It could be through safer drugs, physical therapy, or non-addictive healthier alternatives to manage pain.

"Chiropractic is the largest drug-free healthcare delivery system in the U.S.," says author, consultant and speaker Dallas Humble, D.C., of The Joint Chiropractic in Monroe, La. "The care has been proven non-addictive, safe and a highly effective treatment for many musculoskeletal conditions."

The American College of Physicians released new guidelines urging doctors to only prescribe drugs as a last resort for back pain, Dr. Humble says. Those recommendations lead many patients to non-drug alternatives such as spinal manipulation by a licensed doctor of chiropractic, not only to manage pain, but to treat the root cause -- thereby helping people experience a healthier, more active lifestyle.

"When someone is suffering from musculoskeletal pain and discomfort, they should consider the ramifications of all treatment alternatives," Dr. Humble says. "Based on the risk of addiction, adverse effects and, even worse, death, indicates visiting a healthcare practitioner that offers non-surgical, drug-free care may be a more viable solution."

Dr. Molly Casey of The Joint Chiropractic in West Hollywood, Calif., sees patients with extreme levels of pain, sometimes those who have turned to opioids, as well.

"Sometimes they are taking them when they come in, and after consistent chiropractic care they are able to decrease and come off their pain meds, of course with the supervision of their M.D.," Dr. Casey says. "I have seen patients with opioid issues and ... most of them hate the drugs. I have patients that refuse to use them because they have family members who've been addicted starting with prescriptions."

While medical doctors continue to face the resulting opioid epidemic from years of over-prescribing medications, the chiropractic community’s advances in effective pain treatment have resulted in real changes in patient health.

"We deal with people who can't even stand up straight and find it difficult to get out of bed some days," Dr. Casey says. "(Chiropractic treatment) helps restore optimal nervous system function -- clears interference on a structural level, decreases pain, increases range of motion, and decreases inflammation."

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse offers a list of additional alternatives for pain relief, including:

  • Acupuncture
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Biofeedback
  • Physical Therapy
  • Hypnosis

"These alternative pain measures can be used as a first line of intervention for relieving some forms of non-cancer or non-surgical pain, instead of the current practice of automatically prescribing opioids," the Center says. "The health and addiction risks associated with opioids have to be recognized, and safer alternatives to opioid medications should be further explored."

As parents teach defensive driving to lower the chance they'll lose their child in an auto accident, they can also dispense the keys to minimizing the threat of opioid overdosing: resist drug use and choose healthy alternatives, such as chiropractic care, for the treatment of pain.

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