Pain and opioid use disorder in the U.S. are both complex problems, but they’re related. On one hand, people with chronic pain need relief to maintain a high quality of life. On the other hand, because opioids cause euphoria and change the way that the brain and body process pleasure and reward, they’re highly addictive.
The problem of painkiller addiction stems from many factors. Prescription drugs are only part of the problem. Proper diagnosing and prescribing practices are also crucial for combating the opioid epidemic. Some patients legitimately need relief, but doctors must understand when narcotics are the preferable form of treatment.
The Pharmaceutical Problem – Opioid Prescriptions
In the early 1990s, deaths related to opioid use began to increase in number. People have been using opioids to manage pain and psychological distress for centuries. According to Poison.org, modern narcotic pharmaceuticals were studied and approved for people with cancer pain more often than patients with other types of physical discomfort.
Soon, medical societies and pharmaceutical companies were encouraging physicians to prescribe the medications for non-cancer pain. There wasn’t much data to support that the benefits outweighed the risks, but drug companies ensured doctors that the risk of addiction to these medications was not high.
As opioids became readily available, some people with prescriptions developed a tolerance, eventually requiring higher doses to achieve relief. In some communities, the sale of prescription medications to people who didn’t need them became big business.
By the time 2010 rolled around, deaths from heroin overdose were rising. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that about 75 percent of people entering treatment facilities for heroin abuse in the 2000s used prescription painkillers before turning to the street drug. There were 72,000 deaths related to opioid overdoses in 2017.
The Pain Problem
One of the problems is that people with severe pain seek relief, and doctors are quick to prescribe these addictive medications. According to Vox, many states have passed legislation limiting the length of time for which doctors can prescribe narcotics. Oregon’s Medicaid program is considering eliminating its opioid drug coverage.
It may seem as though stopping people from using the drugs in the first place would prevent them from getting hooked. However, patients who experience chronic pain require safe and effective methods for managing their symptoms so that they can live with dignity.
The question that must be answered is whether it is more dangerous to rely on opioids or be forced to look elsewhere for relief? According to Medical Daily, more than 11 percent of Americans suffer from daily pain.
Many of these people turn to suicide because they feel as though they have no other options. According to Psychology Today, people with enduring pain are twice as likely to kill themselves as people who don’t suffer from the condition. It’s also worth it to question whether some opioid overdoses are attempts at ending a life instead of accidents.
Pain and Opioid Use Disorder: Fixing the Problem
Although some researchers believe that the way to cure America’s opioid problem is to limit the way that physicians prescribe the drugs, the solution is not one-sided. Many factors must be in balance to truly resolve the issue.
Doctors in the U.S. are more likely to prescribe opioids than physicians in other parts of the world. Ove-rprescribing doesn’t just put pain patients at a higher risk for abuse; it leaves them with extra pills that can be sold to people who definitely don’t need them. Also, data suggests that Americans’ pain levels are becoming more severe.
Opioids may be effective at first, but people who take them develop a tolerance quickly. This leaves them seeking out stronger pain relief. It may also leave them physically dependent on the substance. If they stop using the medication, they may end up in more pain than they started with.
Some say that educating doctors can help resolve the dilemma. Physicians should work with patients to taper their medication usage while minimizing withdrawal symptoms.
It’s clear that patients who must deal with chronic pain on a daily basis need physical help. They also require support for their mental health. This is especially true if they’re struggling to mediate their use of painkillers.
Approximately 17 percent of individuals seek out alternative treatments for pain, such as yoga, acupuncture and meditation. Studies show that many of these complementary remedies are effective. Patients and doctors should have better education about and access to these modalities.
In addition, attending to patients’ psychological needs is crucial for helping them get back on their feet. Opioid abuse is associated with higher incidences of depression and anxiety. In some cases, the severity of the pain is caused by psychological issues, which opioids can’t address. An effective treatment program takes mental health into account while offering holistic solutions for managing pain without opioids.
Although a pill may seem like an easy way to cure pain, it leads to a host of other issues. Finding the best way to help people dealing with pain and opioid use disorder is complex, but it involves educating patients and doctors, offering alternative and comprehensive treatment approaches and tending to individuals’ psychological health.
This is exactly what we do at our drug rehab center. If you or a loved one have been suffering, contact us today to discover how we can help you stop the cycle of opioid abuse and manage your pain without suffering.
About the author:
Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.
Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.
Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.