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Prescription Addiction: A King-Sized Problem in America

By Martha Michael

The Opioid Problem

When we look backwards it’s easy to see a mistaken understanding about many forms of medical treatment. In the 1850s it was Dr. Langley’s Root and Herb Pills, which insisted: “Buy me and I’ll do you good.”

The 1950s brought us Nebs – “the shortest distance between you and headache relief,” claiming it was more effective than buffered aspirin, compounds or effervescent products.

With remedies like these for pain, you can see the pattern of human nature -- to find a quick fix that you can take orally with the belief it will bring healing without any negative side effects. That tendency -- to turn to oral medications above all else -- has created an American crisis: opioid addiction.

How it Happens

A perfect example of the destruction that can occur with this kind of spiral, Elvis Presley battled addiction for years and finally died of cardiac arrhythmia in 1977 after an overdose of prescription drugs. There was no bigger celebrity. He was a leader in musical performance, style, and even left us with the catchphrase “Elvis has left the building” to signal there is nothing more to see, but unfortunately, many would also follow Elvis down the dark road of addiction.

Time Magazine devoted an entire issue to the crisis when it printed “The Opioid Diaries,” including a visual record of photography and interviews with addicts from around the country. Calling the opioid crisis “the worst addiction epidemic in U.S. history,” the report says that drug overdoses kill nearly 64,000 people per year, and life expectancy in the United States has fallen for two years in a row.

In addition to physical dependency, there’s a psychological pull for addicts. “The Opioid Diaries” shares the emotional words of an addict who says, “Once you’re into heroin, it’s almost like a relationship with a person you love. And letting go of that, the thought of never seeing someone I love again -- I couldn’t imagine giving it up forever.”

An article by the American Psychological Association makes a distinction between the temporary use of opioids following a surgery or injury and the treatment of chronic pain, which can lead to dependence. The problem comes when an individual develops a tolerance to the drug, which means the dose must be increased to prove effective.

When a person becomes tolerant, you may see symptoms of withdrawal, such as runny eyes and nose, diarrhea, hot and cold flashes, insomnia, excessive yawning, agitation and muscle aches and pains.

Psychologists use several approaches with patients who are addicted to opioids and other drugs.

Cognitive behavioral therapy - Often referred to as CBT, this treatment involves an analysis of behavior patterns, seeking to identify and manage thoughts leading to destructive actions.

Motivational interviewing - Practitioners listen to the words of patients with a nonjudgmental demeanor. The goal is to make addictive individuals feel comfortable enough to discuss their negative behaviors and incite change.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction - Called MBSR, this therapy is a practice that encourages the patient to focus on the present. The goal is a greater awareness of underlying thoughts and feelings, noting their effect on the individual’s health.

What We Can Do

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an article about opioid addiction suggesting that a non-fatal overdose can be an opportunity to get help for an addict. One overdose is likely only the beginning, according to research, so it’s important to be aware when a friend or loved one has a problem with pills. Some of the signs that an individual is suffering from an opioid overdose are:

  • Pinpoint pupils, when eyes are small and constricted
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Gurgling sounds or choking
  • Limpness
  • Pale, blue, cold skin

If you encounter an individual with these symptoms, your actions can save a life: Don’t leave the person alone and call 911 immediately.

Seeing improvement in the opioid crisis can seem slow in coming. One of the interviewees quoted in the Time Magazine article gives an overview of the problem, underscoring its scope. “Opioids reach every part of society: blue collar, white collar, everybody,” says Walter Bender, a deputy sheriff from Ohio. “It’s nonstop. It’s every day. And it doesn’t seem like it’s getting any better.”

Preventing Opioid Addiction

While treatments seem to be coming from every segment of leadership, one of the most important ways to stem the tide of the opioid crisis is prevention. Millions of prescriptions are written every year for pain medications, and many are opioids. But the American Society of Anesthesiologists urge doctors to move away from such trends and turn to non-opioid pain management.

A chiropractor works with patients to create an individualized treatment plan to improve function and decrease pain. Regular treatment with chiropractic care is an alternative to drug therapies in addressing the symptoms of chronic pain.

A paper by the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress outlines the problems caused by the rise in opioid prescriptions and reports notable changes in addressing pain. There have been calls by the CDC, the FDA and the Institute of Medicine to turn away from opioids in favor of alternate approaches to treating chronic pain.

“An important non-pharmacologic approach in helping to solve this crisis is chiropractic care,” says a white paper released by the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress. “Collectively, we must begin to extricate ourselves from our current ineffective, dangerous and often fatal reality.”

With the non-invasive approach of chiropractic care, patients receive personalized, hands-on treatment regarding acute and chronic neuromusculoskeletal pain. Drugless therapies such as spinal adjustments work to restore health, making it unnecessary for patients to seek destructive answers to chronic problems.

It’s too bad we can’t go back in time to stop the forward motion of the king-sized problem of opioid addiction. Perhaps it could have saved Elvis, who came on the scene with unrivaled musculoskeletal function (and exhibition) that made him an icon. If he had turned to a chiropractor for symptoms of chronic pain instead of prescription drugs, the building might not be empty today.

If it can kill Elvis, none of us are out of its reach.

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