The opioid crisis in America has left no part of American culture untouched. From educators, to moms, to business men, to healthcare professionals- it is part of us. The demographic for drug addiction has changed dramatically in the US over the past decade. Drug addicts are no longer lurking in shady back alleys to score their next fix, they are sitting in your living room, your office, and your religious/community meetings. They often appear to be functioning completely normally in common middle to upper middle class lifestyles of all ethnicities, faiths, and geographic locations. 1,000 people are treated daily in emergency rooms in America for opioid related issues. There is no longer a “profile” associated with drug addiction and one of the largest groups of opioid users are those with back pain. LifeWorks Integrative Health in Overland Park & Shawnee provides the research.
A 2011 study reviewed the prescribing patterns of opioids in a large healthcare plan. It found “opioid prescribing was common among patients with back pain.” While this is not ground-breaking information, it is significant that “the prevalence of psychological distress, unhealthy lifestyles, and healthcare utilization increased incrementally with duration of opioid use.” In other words, the longer someone with back pain used opioids, the worse the rest of their life became. In this study, including over 26,000 people, over 60% were prescribed opioids for back pain which includes general low back pain as well as herniated discs, sciatica, degenerative discs and spinal stenosis.
Now, shift gears to the world of chiropractic care. It is estimated that only 7% of the US population utilized chiropractic care. The foundation of chiropractic care resides in spine related issues including every single one of the diagnosis above for which opioids are commonly prescribed. The standard treatment for back pain is opioid prescription plus physical therapy. However physical therapy is vastly underutilized even though it is part of the conventional treatment options.
A recent Politico podcast titled “How The White House Battles the Opioid Crisis,” the interviewer recounts her own experience this year of having back pain and the doctor prescribing an opioid with no mention of other options such as physical therapy, rehab or yoga. She declined the prescription since her knowledge of the 50% chance she could become addicted to opioids led her to conclude she should try something else first. The addictive nature of opioids is perhaps the most non discriminant part of American culture right now and the reason one person is immediately addicted and another is not is at some level related to genetics, but still largely a mystery. As an alternative to opioids, chiropractic care for back pain continues to be underutilized, even when it is proven to be 40% less expensive than MD treatment and 60% effective for those whose surgeries for sciatica fail. The level at which chiropractic care can help back pain is very well established within the chiropractic community, but virtually ignored by the conventional medical establishment. We know that needs to change.
In a time when deaths from prescription drugs (50,000 per year) now pale in comparison to motor vehicle accident deaths (35,757) and gun violence (36,252), we have got to wake up to the alternative options available for the most common issues for which opioids are prescribed. It is being said that drug overdoses are now a significant contributing factor to the decline in the nation’s life expectancy. This should be a huge wake up call since 80% of opioid addictions originate from a legitimate prescription for pain medication. Chiropractic care, physical therapy/rehab, and even regenerative cell technology are not only safe alternatives to opioids but they actually aid in improving the rest of your life instead of leading you down a spiral of addition risk, mental health illnesses and lower quality of life.
The case against opioids from an addiction standpoint has been clearly made, but what about the actual pain relief of opioids? It is not common knowledge that they don’t actually work that well for many many people for pain, but that after they are prescribed, if addiction has occurred, the use continues to satisfy the addiction while still being in pain. Randomized trials have demonstrated in the use of opioids for non-cancer related pain “only small to modest improvements in pain relief, with no consistent improvement in physical functioning.” It is also suggested in regard to the early pharmaceutical marketing of opioid drugs that the company who created OxyContin sought out non-cancer related pain as a new market which increased the prescriptions of the drug by tenfold from 1997-2002, but that is a whole other topic for another day.
We wholeheartedly believe that chiropractic care should be the very first treatment recommendation for any type of pain. Chiropractic care can correct many of the improper biomechanical functions that over time produce pain. It also aligns the nerve signalling in the spine which improves functionality of every organ system in the body. Your pain does not have to continue. You do not have to risk becoming addicted to opioid medications to alleviate your pain, nor do you have to jump to surgical options.
We believe comprehensive, quality, compassionate chiropractic care can legitimately make a dent in the ever-expanding opioid crisis. If you know someone who deals with chronic pain, or has recently had an injury, they have likely been prescribed opioid drugs and need to be offered chiropractic care as a solution for their pain. One of the scariest parts of opioid addiction is that even closest family, parents, spouses and siblings do not know that addiction has occurred with legitimately prescribed opioids for legitimate pain until it begins to affect quality of life and relationships. Please, we urge you, avoid this slippery slope and pursue chiropractic care first when pain occurs.
LifeWorks Integrative Health is your solution to getting to the root cause of your condition. Our functional medicine practitioners focus on inflammation causing triggers that lead to chronic degenerative disease.