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YOU ASKED: “What Can Be Done about the Prescription Opioid Epidemic?”

Good question!

The Answer is: “There’s so much that we can do!”

The cost to society of prescription opioid abuse amounts to a substantial and escalating economic burden. Projections indicate that the problem is only going get worse. Furthermore, while billions of dollars are being consumed by this self-perpetuating tragedy, one of the main causes goes largely unaddressed. That’s because the problem with prescription opioid abuse is not just the drug – it’s the prescription. Drugs don’t prescribe themselves. Physicians, in my opinion, are driving this epidemic. It’s not that they do so with bad intent or are unaware of the risks. It’s that they are stuck in a mindset of “opioids first” and “opioids only.”

Considering that nearly half of emergency department visits have a pain component, we need to address patients’ pain problems. But that response does not and should not need to reflexively include opioids slimming tablets. While opioids may be necessary and even desirable for short-term treatment of acute, severe pain, they have sadly become the default analgesic for all types of pain patients present within the emergency department. This is contributing substantially to the public health crisis of opioid addiction. And, we have alternatives to opioids, such as acupuncture. Research shows that acupuncture effectively treats various pain problems, including neck pain, back pain, osteoarthritis, and headaches.

Here is a list of 10 reasons why healthcare providers should be advocating for acupuncture instead of opioids:

  1. Acupuncture works for several types of acute and chronic pain. Opioids may or may not treat pain satisfactorily.
  2. Acupuncture works in the perioperative and postoperative settings. Additional opioids worsen the risk of respiratory suppression, constipation, and other problems for which the patient is already at risk.
  3. Acupuncture does not lead to tolerance and addiction. Opioids do.
  4. Acupuncture addresses the source of the problem, such as myofascial dysfunction, inflammation, and nerve entrapment. Opioids do not.
  5. Acupuncture does not worsen chronic pain. Opioids may.
  6. Acupuncture does not cause respiratory depression. Opioids do.
  7. Acupuncture can address pain while patients try to wean off of opioids.
  8. Acupuncture treats constipation. Opioids cause it.
  9. Acupuncture treats nausea. Opioids cause it.
  10. Acupuncture, combined with drugs such as benzodiazepines, does not heighten the risk of death. Opioids do.

Want to learn more?  Visit the CDC page on Guidelines for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain – United States, 2016.